A new study from the University of Iowa undertook a sophisticated analysis to confirm something as simple as it is obvious. In particular, the study found that whistleblowing reduces harmful conduct. The study, which will be published in the latest edition of The Accounting Review, determined that companies sharply reduced or even eliminated wrongdoing after whistleblowing happened.
Although not surprising, these findings must be highlighted because whistleblowers can face retaliation in response to their acts in the public interest. Such retaliation may be of the most serious kind, including discharge and blacklisting from an industry when the whistleblower is in the private sector and jailing when the whistleblower is in the public sector. President Obama, who has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other Presidents combined, personifies this unfortunate reality. Given the rhetoric used during and after the 2016 Presidential campaign, there is little reason for optimism that the vital role of whistleblowers will now be recognized or respected by the incoming President Trump.
Under the circumstances, it remains essential for whistleblowers to know their rights – especially if they experience retaliation for their acts in the public interest. Specifically, people who report in good faith apparent or actual violations of law may have access to an array of remedies. Whistleblowers can obtain, for example, reinstatement if they are fired, back pay and benefits, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, civil penalties, and reimbursement of attorney’s fees and litigation costs incurred to assert their whistleblower rights. Whistleblowers can receive such extensive remedies because, as the recent University of Iowa study reminds us, whistleblowers promote the rule of law and otherwise provide a vital public service.