Whistleblowers Are Sometimes Unlikeable People. But Don't Ignore Their Claims

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a vast number of whistleblowers report some kind of retaliation. Some studies show that as many as 82% of whistleblowers report some kind of backlash. It’s a stressful role to assume, and upsets everyone’s apple cart, even those with no connection to the alleged wrongdoing. Additionally, there is research that shows that whistleblowers can be outspoken, strong willed, even rigid individuals with high moral standards, which can be off-putting, and sometimes with personalities that seem to naturally incite some level of animus among their co-workers. They don’t tend to be “go-along-to-get-along” people, or are described as “team players.” Many could easily be labeled nonconformists.

So it’s tempting to want to discount their claims. They might complain about a lot of things at work, even minor items, such as conditions in the break room, or amorphous elements, such as not having ample resources to do their job when the supply of staples evaporates. But these elements will not be important to a jury, and will in fact prejudice matters against a company that seeks to discount a whistleblower because of their lack of “likeability.”

Like juries, smart employers won’t judge a book by its cover. Instead, they will take great pains to use filters to strip away personal judgment and focus on the message the whistleblower carries. Any attempt, especially at trial, to introduce accusations of unlikeability will almost always suffer tremendous backlash, and add credence to claims the whistleblower has suffered prejudice and retaliation.

Bottom line: don’t blame the messenger. Sometimes, whistleblowers have already been labeled the “squeaky wheel” of their workplaces. They may in fact play that role, but that doesn’t mean that what they are claiming is wrong or incorrect, or should be discounted outright. Once brought into the light, evidence that an employer may have minimized the veracity of whistleblower claims can be as damaging as the claims about the underlying conduct itself. A company may not have full control over the initial alleged wrongdoing, but it does have control over how it responds to a whistleblower. Smart companies take charge and correct matters once they are forced by whistleblowers to act.