Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 15;   April 9, 2014: On Snitching at Work: II

On Snitching at Work: II

by

Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.
Rachel Hoffman, for whom Florida's Rachel's Law is named

Rachel Hoffman (1984-2008), for whom Florida's Rachel's Law is named. Ms. Hoffman, a graduate of Florida State University, was 23 years old when she was murdered while acting as a police informant during a drug sting. She had been under drug court supervision for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, which was discovered during a traffic stop in 2007. In 2008, a search of her apartment uncovered four ounces of marijuana and four ecstasy pills. To avoid a prison sentence, she agreed to become an informant and to play a role in a sting operation. She was clearly over her head, and the sting violated department policy on several gounds. Moreover, her handlers lost track of her during the operation. She was found dead two days later. The incident led to adoption of Rachel's Law, which regulates police responsibility for informants' safety.

If your employer has written policies governing the handling of reports of violations of laws, policies, procedures, and ethics, it is rare indeed. Nevertheless, such policies are needed. Without the protection such policies provide, reporting transgressions is a risky step, to be undertaken only after serious contemplation of those risks.

More about the case of Rachel Hoffman. Photo courtesy bluelight.org.

When considering whether or not to report a transgression — a violation of law, policy, procedure, or ethics — there is more to ponder than right and wrong. Your own safety, in terms of career, position, and even life and limb, are also factors.

Here are four questions to consider. As in Part I, we use the term reporter for the person making the report, authority for the person receiving the report, and accused for the person whom the reporter believes has transgressed.

Will the authority protect the reporter's identity?
Some report recipients can be negligent about protecting the reporter's identity. Some actually feel obliged to disclose the reporter's identity to the accused.
Unless the authority is known in advance to care about protecting the reporter's identity, reporting offenses is dangerous business. Still, if failing to report is even more dangerous, the authority's behavior might not be an issue.
Can the reporter's identity remain private?
Even if the authority wants to protect the reporter's identity, investigators and administrative personnel with access to the report might be less fastidious than the authority about protecting the reporter's identity.
Following the pattern set by some legal frameworks, some people believe that those accused by reporters have a right to confront their "accusers." Whether this concept applies in the organizational context is debatable at best. In any case, if the investigating apparatus is "leaky," or if the accused has access to the report and the reporter's identity, making a report can be risky unless the organization provides formal protection for reporters.
Are the reporter and accused at odds?
Even if the reporter's identity is protected, the accused sometimes seeks revenge against people the accused suspects of being the reporter. If the reporter and the accused are already at odds for any reason, the accused might take action against the reporter, even without conclusive proof of the reporter's identity.
This is one of the Even if the reporter's identity is
protected, the accused sometimes
seeks revenge against people
the accused suspects of
being the reporter
many reasons to be on good terms — or at least, not bad terms — with everyone. Being at odds with someone who transgresses can create ethical quandaries.
Will the accused (or someone else) seek retribution?
Out of anger or to prevent further reports, the accused sometimes seeks retribution for reports. And if others, such as the supervisor of the accused, are also implicated in the allegations, they too might seek retribution.
Even if your identity is protected, the accused sometimes does guess correctly who made the report. And sometimes the accused seeks retribution against anyone who could have made the report, "just to be sure."

If you expect to be targeted by the accused even if someone else is the reporter, reporting might well be your best option. With respect to the accused, you're no worse off than keeping silent; and with respect to the authority, you've done your part to keep the organization honest. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Design Errors and Groupthink  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuMeqtzBUAqFTULQhner@ChacmeXXdNCTzGkubNTjoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

An aircraft armament technician pushes a 500-pound toolbox to an A-10 at Whiteman Air Force BaseTen Tactics for Tough Times: II
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part II of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
Hiding from the truthThe High Cost of Low Trust: II
Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
Mars as seen by the Hubble TelescopeMore Indicators of Scopemonging
Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.
The Gatun Locks of the Panama CanalThe Power of Situational Momentum
For many of us, the typical workday presents a series of opportunities to take action. We often approach these situations by choosing among the expected choices. But usually there are choices that exploit situational momentum, and they can be powerful choices indeed.
The city walls of Dubrovnik, CroatiaProblem Displacement by Intention
When solving problems creates new problems, or creates problems elsewhere, we say that problem displacement has occurred. Sometimes it's intentional.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Children playing a computer gameComing July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
Office equipment — or is it office toys?And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenAJWMCWOgkbEvFmiyner@ChacYqWjknQgoLqrOTOuoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.