New Study Shines Light on Chilling Effect of Whistleblower Retaliation


According to a new study, more than 80% of financial professionals who have witnessed or suspected financial crime have chosen to stay silent and not blow the whistle, with nearly half of those respondents citing a fear of retaliation as a key reason why.

The results of the study, conducted by Censuswide, were announced in connection with a group of financial whistleblowers reclaiming derogatory terms used against whistleblowers. Whistleblowers Sherron Watkins, Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith are aiming to empower others to come forward by reclaiming the terms “snitch”, “rat” and “traitor”.

According to the study, 56% of financial professionals in the U.S. and U.K. have spotted or suspected internal fraud in their workplaces. The study also found that “59% have seen whistleblowers subsequently left out of important decisions,” “33% have seen whistleblowers moved to a different team, and “32% have heard whistleblowers called derogatory names behind their backs or directly to their face.”

“When someone is troubled by corporate wrongdoing and they attempt to sound the alarm, the pathway is uncharted, things happen organically,” says Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins. “Normal rational people speak about their concerns with their closest friends and work colleagues, who often suggest staying safe saying ‘keep your head down, if you must report, go soft, nothing black and white.’ Yet black and white evidence is what is needed to get the attention of those in power, either internally or with media or outside watchdog groups to prevent or stop fraudulent activity.”

“Choosing to blow the whistle involves more than just the desire to right a wrong,” said Social Security whistleblower Jennifer Griffith. “It’s about protecting their employers from fraud. However, it’s more often than not seen as causing trouble for the employer, or as a self-serving action to get a financial reward. No one who chooses to blow the whistle expects to have their reputation attacked, their credibility impugned or to lose their job. The cost of ignoring a whistleblower’s complaints are far greater than acknowledging that a problem exists and taking steps to fix it. It’s been 19 years since I blew the whistle and the problems that existed then with the Social Security Administration still exist today. We must do more to protect whistleblowers.”

In addition to highlighting the chilling effect whistleblower retaliation has, the study also touched on the desire for stronger whistleblower protections. According to the study, 48% of financial professionals “said the legal system simply does not adequately protect whistleblowers.”

In 2020, WNN commissioned a poll from Marist that found the American public overwhelmingly thinks whistleblowers who report corporate or government fraud should be protected. That study found that 81% of likely voters believe that passing stronger laws which protect employees who report corporate fraud should be a priority for Congress.

Listen to Enron Whistleblower Sherron Watkins on the Whistleblower of the Week podcast.

Listen to Social Security Whistleblowers Jennifer Griffith and Sarah Carver on the Whistleblower of the Week podcast.

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