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 reportermany 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 Top Next Issue
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- Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 20: Managing Dissent Risk
- In group decision making, dissent risk is the risk that dissents about important decisions will be rejected without due consideration. As a result, group decision quality can suffer, and some groups will actually eject dissenters. How can we manage dissent risk? Available here and by RSS on June 20.
- And on June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
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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.