Blowing the Truth out

Whistle blowing is informing on illegal and unethical practices in the work place is becoming increasingly common as employees speak out about their ethical concerns at work. It can have disastrous consequences for the individual, as well as threatening the survival of the organization that is being complained about. This paper aims to provide a balanced approach to this topic, which has generated much controversy and debate. I would like to first explain what whistle blowing is and detail some the following important moral issues that go along with whistle blowing.
I will try to show how this could affect any one by going over a classic case of an Eastern Airlines pilot . As well as considering how an individual can protect him or herself from becoming the victim when trying to blow the whistle. Under what circumstances, if any, is whistle blowing morally justified? Some people have argued that whistle blowing is never justified because employees have absolute obligations of confidentiality and loyalty to the organization for which they work.
People who argue this way see no difference between employees who reveal trade secrets by selling information to competitors, and whistle – blowers who disclose activities harmful to others. This position is similar to another held by some business people that the sole obligation of corporate executives is to make a profit for the stockholders. If this were true, corporate executives would have no obligations to the public. However, no matter what one’s special obligation, one is never exempt from the general obligations we have to our fellow human beings. One of the most fundamental of these obligations is not to cause harm to others.

Corporate executives are no more exempt from this obligation than other people. Corporations in democratic societies are run with the expectations that they will function in ways that are compatible with the public interest. Corporations in democratic societies are also run with the expectations that they will not only obey the law governing their activities, but will not do anything that undermines basic democratic processes, such as bribing public officials. In addition to having the obligation to make money for stockholders, corporate executives have the obligation to see that these obligations are complied within an organization.
They also have obligations to the company’s employees, for example to maintain a safe working place. It is the failure of corporate executives to fulfill obligations of the types mentioned that create the need for whistle blowing. Just as the special obligations of corporate executives to stockholders cannot override their more fundamental obligations to others, the special obligations of employees to employer cannot override their more fundamental obligations. Such as obligations of confidentiality and loyalty cannot take precedence over the fundamental duty to act in ways that prevent unnecessary harm to others.
Agreements to keep something secret have no moral standing unless the secret is itself morally justifiable. For example a no person can have an obligation to keep a secret of a plot to murder someone, because murder is an immoral act. It is for this reason also that employees have a legal obligation to report an employer who has committed or is about to commit a felony. Although there are obvious differences between the situation of employees who work for government agencies and those who work for private firms, if we leave apart the special case in which national security was involved, then the same principles apply to both.
The Codes of Ethics of Government Service to which all government employees are expected to conform requires that employees put loyalty to moral principles and the national interest above loyalty to the public parties or the agency for which they work. Neither can one justify participation in an illegal or immoral activity by arguing that one was merely following orders. It has also been argued that whistle blowing is always justified because it is an exercise of the right to free speech. But, the right to free speech is not perfect.
An example to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater because that is likely to cause a panic in which people may be injured. Similarly, one may have a right to speak out on a particular subject, in the sense that there are no contractual agreements which prohibit him/her from doing so, but it may be the case that it would be morally wrong for one to do so because it would harm innocent people, such as one’s fellow workers and stockholders who are not responsible for the wrongdoing being disclosed.
The fact that one has the right to speak out does not mean that one should do so in every case. But this kind of consideration cannot create an complete prohibition against whistle-blowing because one must weigh the harm to fellow workers and stockholders caused by disclosure against the harm to others caused by allowing the organizational wrong to continue. Further more, the moral principles that you must consider all people’s interests equally prohibits giving preference to one’s own group.
So there most be considered justification for not giving as much weight to the interest of the stockholders investing in corporate firms because they do so with the knowledge that they take on financial risk if management acts illegally or immorally. Same as if the employees of a company know that it is engaged in illegal or immoral activities and do not take action, including whistle blowing, to end the activities, then they must bear some of the guilt for the actions.
These in turn cancel the principles that one should refrain from blowing the whistle because speaking out would cause harm to the organization. Unless it can be shown that the harm to the employees and stockholders would be significantly greater than the harm caused by the organizational wrong doing, the obligation to avoid unnecessary harm to the public must come first. This must be true even when there is specific agreements not to speak out. Because ones obligation to the public overrides one’s obligation to maintain secrecy.
If the arguments which I have just made are valid then the position of whistle blowing is never justified because it involves a violation of loyalty and confidentiality, or that whistle blowing is always right because it is an exercise of the right to free speech and is morally justified. Then the obligation a person has to prevent avoidable harm to others overrides any obligations of confidentiality and loyalty, making it an obligation to blow the whistle on illegal or unethical acts.
Now that I have set down some moral ground rules that help determine if your responsible or justified in blowing the whistle on big business, I would like to share with you an example of what happened to a company and a employee of a company that has had the whistle blown on them. In this first case a pilot of eastern whistle comes clean on what he suspects to be serious design problem with the new Lockheed 1011, wide body aircraft. At the time Dan blew the whistle, he was flying regularly scheduled flights for Eastern airlines as well as being involved in flight training and engineering safety, for Eastern airlines.
Mr. Gellert was also a graduate of Air Force Safety School, the Army Crash Survival Investigators coarse, and the aerospace Systems Safety, all highly regarded safety courses. The problem, which Mr. Gellert suspected, was of unexplainable crashes in a flight simulator while using the auto pilot system . The L-1011 defect involved the complex interaction between the crew and the autopilot and related instruments, which they relied upon to conduct a safe approach to a runway when landing the aircraft.
Mr. Gellert became aware of the problem on a routine flight while using the L-1011. While flying the aircraft with the autopilot engaged and cruising at 10,000 feet with 230 passengers, Gellert dropped his flight plan. As he went to pick it up, his elbow hit the control stick in front of him causing the plane to go in a steep dive something that should not happen. Fortunately, he was able to grab the stick and ease the plane back on course. What had happened was that that while bumping the stick, he had tripped off the autopilot.
Instead of holding the plane at 10,000 feet, it had switched from its “command mode” to “control steering”. As a result, when the stick moved forward, causing the plane to dive, the autopilot, rather than holding the aircraft on course held it in a dive. There was no warning to the pilot, such as alarms or light and the autopilot’s altimeter indicated that the plane was flying at 10,000 feet, a dangerously wrong reading. After this incident Gellert told an Eastern management official what had happened and the official replied “we’ll look into it.
But three months later from the time he reported the incident an Eastern airlines flight approaching Miami International Airport crashed. The crew had used the autopilot to land the plane and it had malfunctioned crashing into the everglades. The first step that Mr. Gellert took in blowing the whistle on Eastern airlines and Lockheed was to write a two page evaluation of the auto pilots problems and send them to, Frank Borman, then vice-president of operations; Floyd Hall, chairman of the board , and Samuel Higgenbottom, president of operations.
The only response was from Borman that said, it was “pure folly” that the autopilot caused the accident. He also sent two copies to the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board. ) which agreed with Gellert and asked him to testify against Eastern and Lockheed. Even with his testimony on his experiences with the auto pilot system NTSB found that a defect in the autopilot caused the crash, but attributed the tragedy to “pilot error” because the crew did not react fast enough.
At this point eastern has done nothing to keep Gellert from doing his job . Until he had the same situation happened to him on two separate occasions, which prompted him to write a twelve-page petition to the NTSB as well as to top management. Gellert was immediately demoted to co-pilot. “Twice a year pilots bid on a base, a position, or a particular aircraft. ” The first indication that he was being penalized by the company for his written petitions. At the same time the NTSB began to put pressure on eastern to make alterations to it’s aircraft’s.
The pressure that went along with confronting eastern management forced Gillert to take a three- year leave of absence. And when Gillert decided to return to work, eastern denied him, questioning his ability to fly an aircraft concerned with his mental state. Eastern grounded Gillert indefinitely. A civil suit was filed and won by Gellert . The jury found Eastern guilty and awarded him 1. 5 million in damages, which were never paid, due to appeals. Gellert also filed a grievance to get reinstated as a pilot , which he won but Eastern refused to instate him as a full time pilot .
The bottom line is that eastern was making life hard on Gillard because he wanted to do the right thing , he was aware of a problem which he tried to bring to the attention of the executives in charge . He was a dedicated employee and was only concerned about the safety of the people Eastern was flying and in turn Eastern continues to punish him and make his life extremely hard. I believe what has happened in the above summary of the Eastern airline case is that which is common among whistle blowers.
Employees that decide to blow the whistle on big business for the greater good of the people are often subject to countless acts of discrimination. Employees are often demoted, pushed aside, put down ,alienated from the industry, and made their lives extremely uncomfortable for the mere fact that they tried to do the right thing. Gellert felt that the autopilot was defective yet management refused to listen, and then when it was to late and an accident occurred management didn’t want to know , because they didn’t want to except responsibility for not addressing the problem in the first place.
If anything Gellert should have been rewarded for trying to prevent a disaster but instead, as is common for many whistle blowers he was punished. Employees who discover apparent wrong-doing have several options, they can turn a blind eye and continue as normal, raise the matter internally and hope for the best, blow the whistle outside while trying to remain anonymous, blow the whistle and take the full force of employer disapproval, resign and remain silent, or resign and blow the whistle. The key is minimizing the risk to you as an employee.
As I have shown to blow the whistle requires a great deal of care and patience. Yet sometimes employees do not always make good judgements in the heat of the moment. Allowing himself or herself to be more vulnerable then someone who takes the time to plan and receive advice to do it right. Some simple questions will help to minimize your risk and determine if blowing the whistle is really necessary. First, make sure the situation is one that warrants whistle blowing. Secondly, you should carefully examine your motives. Third, verify and document your information.
Fourth, determine the type of wrongdoing involved and to whom it should be reported. Fifth, state your allegations in appropriate ways. Sixth, decide whether the whistle blowing should be internal or external and if it should be open or anonymous. Seventh, make sure you follow proper guidelines in reporting the wrongdoing. And last you should consult a lawyer and anticipate as well as document retaliation. With all this said there is really no sure way to go about making the right choice on weather to blow the whistle or not.
Employees that are forced to blow the whistle are often forced to do so because their concerns are not given fair hearings by their employers. This results in damage to both the whistleblower and the organization. Yet if wrong doing with in an organization go undetected, they can result in even in greater damage to the workforce, and the public at large. Whistle blowing is an effective way to regulate business internally and should not be discriminated against. In researching this paper it has come to my attention that whistle blowers may never have it easy.
The possibility of causing career suicide should be maintained at the lowest level possible. A good indication of the how genuinely ethical our society is how organizations treats its whistleblowers. I can only hope that we will improve in the next coming century than continue on the course we have set for ourselves in the past. I strongly believe that society owes an immense gratitude to its whistle blowers and that they will soon be praised for coming forward instead of punished.

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