tattletale.jpgSome of us parents frown down on tattletaling when our kids engage in it. But maybe we should be encouraging the practice if we want our children to go out and change the world.

Cases of whistleblowing in the workplace are rare, but they’re critical when it comes to helping derail bad behaviors among everyone from the rank and file to CEOs.

The big news today is fraud at a huge hospital chain called HCA that’s been accused of wrongdoing by some of its doctors who allegedly performed unnecessary lucrative heart tests on patients that put those patients in danger. And guess how we found out about this? A whistleblower!

This from a New York Times article today on a government inquiry into the matter:

In the summer of 2010, a troubling letter reached the chief ethics officer of the hospital giant HCA, written by a former nurse at one of the company’s hospitals in Florida. In a follow-up interview, the nurse said a doctor at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce, had been performing heart procedures on patients who did not need them, putting their lives at risk.

“It bothered me,” the nurse, C. T. Tomlinson, said in a telephone interview. “I’m a registered nurse. I care about my patients.”

He cared. That’s often the motive for whistleblowers and not much else. Indeed, Tomlinson was fired in retaliation for what he did, according the the Times article.

The life of a whistleblower can be fraught with career ruin and agony, but still some brave individuals step up.

Recently, financial incentives were introduced to help motivate more people to do the right thing and mitigate the impact on a worker’s economic well being.

The new law providing monetary rewards for whistleblowers kicked in last year (in addition to scores of federal and states whistleblower protections put in place in recent years). There’s also a growing desire on the part of citizens to step up when they see wrongdoing following an economic downturn largely caused by malfeasance in corporate America. And there has been a beefing up of government enforcement to protect citizens who come forward with their accounts of misconduct from retaliation.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform law created more incentives, including a whistleblower reward that went into effect in August of last year, for employees to step forward, something that’s very difficult for them to do because they can lose their jobs as a result, and many have. The legislation actually calls for financial incentives of up to 30 percent of funds recovered for information employees give regulators that leads to prosecution of securities fraud. (Click here for information from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on how the bounty works.)

Such incentives may further encourage people to step forward. But it’s not just about the money.

Since 2005, there’s been a spike in whistleblower cases filed with the federal government, according to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. And one of the biggest labor law firms in the country, representing employers, has experienced such a big increase in worker snitching that it has created a special whistleblower practice to handle the extra workload.

rapp.jpg“Any uptick is a good sign,” said Geoffrey Rapp, the Harold A. Anderson Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo’s College of Law, about an increase in whistleblower charges. “The goal here is to get information about fraud before it becomes so serious, as in the collapse of [Bernard] Madoff and Enron, where the whole company falls apart, or the economy falls apart.”

It’s a trend that labor and shareholder advocates applaud, but corporations dread, and it’s intensified in recent months for a host of reasons, according to legal experts.

OSHA, which administers a host of whistleblower protections under 21 different laws, including not only labor safety laws, but also those under Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act, has seen a jump in whistleblower charges, reaching 2,339 through Sept. 14 of this year, compared to a total of 2,319 for all of 2010, and 2,158 in 2009.

It’s probably a drop in the bucket when it comes to what many workers witness out there, but at least more individuals are stepping up.

Maybe it’s time to reassess the values we teach our children when it comes to disclosing bad behavior they see. And to be clear to my daughter who will probably read this post, I’m not talking about telling on your brother every time he forgets to flush the toilet.

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