Survival Guide for Whistleblowers

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project and co-author of The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide: A Handbook for Committing the Truth, and Jeffrey Wigand, a prominent tobacco industry whistleblower and subject of the movie The Insider, talk about the new legal landscape for whistleblowers and what protections there are for those who speak out about corporate misconduct.

Wigand says the first thing to do when you're preparing to blow the whistle on your employer's dirty secret is to make sure you have the facts, the truth, because you're about to step off the gangplank into an ocean of sharks.

It's a balancing act. And the balancing act I had to do was between the truth, which would save numerous lives throughout the world that are caused by the loss of life through the use of tobacco, and my children. Because the death threats I received were targeted towards my children.

Test the waters of support

Devine suggests that before you blow a whistle, find out if your peers are raising the same questions. Solidarity will make or break your case.

Solidarity from the people who are affected by your decision, which means you have to make that choice with them, rather than just telling them that you've made a nobly heroic decision that's going to have an extreme impact on their life.

The key thing when you're testing the waters is not to expose yourself as a threat to the institution, Devine said, but rather as a loyal employee who is worried, because you could easily be prosecuted.

You cannot do this alone, if there isn't support from other workers, other witnesses then you might want to choose an anonymous hotline to do the right thing, rather than stick your neck out.

New legal landscape

For corporate workers, Devine says there's been a revolution in freedom of speech in the last decade.

It's like we've reached the promised land for what legal rights if you can afford a due process hearing, if you can afford a day in court. But only about twenty percent of whistle blowers who are fired have the money to do that, after all they're unemployed.

But federal workers are still unprotected--they're waiting on the Whistle Blower protection act.