Chicago Ethics Task Force calls for protecting whistleblowers

City of Chicago sealThe City of Chicago Ethics Task Force released a report today that recommends that the City strengthen protections for whistleblowers. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed the Task Force to improve the City’s notorious record on ethics. Cindy Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform chairs the Task Force.

On page 29, Recommendation 16 notes that the City’s Ethics Ordinance does not include “a generally applicable whistleblower provision.” It notes that Chicago does have a more general whistleblower protection at 2‐152‐171(b)(1)‐(2), and the Task Force recommends that this ordinance be moved to the Ethics Ordinance. Merely moving the whistleblower provision, however, will not strengthen it. The Task Force cites a 2009 survey by the Ethics Resource Center that found that 60% of City employees did not report misconduct out of fear of retaliation. The Task Force asked the City to publicize its whistleblower protection.

I can also suggest that the City’s ordinance expand the scope of protected activity to include any lawful act taken to raise a concern about misconduct, and any refusal to comply with an order to engage in misconduct. The City’s current whistleblower protection only protects disclosures to government agencies. Effective whistleblower remedies will include awards of compensatory damages, exemplary damages, attorneys fees and costs, and injunctive relief including reinstatement, expungement and posting.

Recommendation 15 could also become a concern for whistleblowers. The Task Force wants the City Council to require that all employees report all misconduct they observe. This type of requirement can be used by managers to punish whistleblowers. They could say that the employee did not report the misconduct fast enough, or through the right channels. If the City Council considers this recommendation, it should be mindful that the better policy will always leave every door open to those who want to raise their concerns.

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