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Philosophy 223 Ethical Treatment of Employees: Whistle-blowing.

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1 Philosophy 223 Ethical Treatment of Employees: Whistle-blowing

2 The Basics Whistle-blowing is an attempt by a member or former member of an organization to disclose wrongdoing in or by the organization. It takes both internal and external forms. The difficulty with whistleblowing is that it seems in obvious conflict with another obligation: loyalty.

3 Who Blows the Whistle? The average whistle-blower is a 47-year-old family man with 7 years on the job and a strong belief in universal moral principles. Most whistle-blowers who work for private businesses are fired by their employers, 20% remain unemployed after 6 months, 25% report a decrease in family income, 17% lose homes, 54% report harassment by their peers at work, 80% report physical deterioration, 10% attempt suicide. Despite these figures, most whistle-blowers admit of few regrets and assert that they would do it again.

4 A Difficult Position u Whistle-blowers are typically pulled in (at least) three directions.  All employees have obligations to their employers and their co-workers which are relatively obvious and easy to specify.  However they also have obligations to the communities in which they live and work, up to and including the global community. If this isn’t complicated enough, whistleblowers obviously have a responsibility to themselves and to their loved ones.

5 “Some Paradoxes” Davis briefly examines the case of Roger Boisjoly and his blowing the whistle on Morton-Thiokol following the Challenger disaster. He then applies this case to the standard theory of whistle-blowing and discovers that this case does not seem to satisfy the demands of this theory. As a result, he proposes an alternative “complicity theory” of whistle-blowing.

6 What is morally problematic with whistle-blowing? Whistle-blowing is morally problematic because employees are seen to have a prima facie duty of loyalty to their employers Prima facie – (first face) at first sight – accepted as correct until proven otherwise Why does it make sense to say that employees owe loyalty to their employers?

7 The Standard Theory of Whistle- Blowing W-B is permissible when (149): (S1) The organization that the whistle-blower belongs to will, through product or policy, do serious and considerable harm. (S2) The whistleblower has reported the threat of harm to her superiors and it is obvious that her superiors will do nothing effective. (S3) The whistle-blower has exhausted all additional internal procedures. W-B is required when S1-S3 obtain and (149): (S4) The whistle-blower has evidence that would convince a reasonable, impartial observer that she’s correct. (S5) The whistle-blower has good reason to believe that blowing the whistle will prevent the harm at a reasonable cost.

8 Justifications of W-B W-B justified by application of a (fairly weak) version of the harm principle (for W-B). “people have a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others if they can do so with little cost to themselves” (149). In this instance the harm principle is a form of “minimally decent samaritanism.” Not a form of “good samaritanism” which requires going beyond the moral minimum.

9 Three Paradoxes of Whistle-Blowing (on the Standard Theory) Paradox of Burden – whistle-blowers generally act at considerable risk to themselves, thus the weak justification offered by the specified harm principle is inadequate. Paradox of Missing Harm – only a subset of harms are “serious and considerable,” many significant harms (deception, injustice) don’t rise to the standard. Paradox of Failure – whistle-blowers are rarely successful at preventing “serious and considerable harm.”

10 An Example: The Challenger Disaster The Standard Theory fails to show why Roger Boisjoly is a justified whistle-blower. Yet Boisjoly is widely considered a prime example of a justified whistle-blower. Under the standard theory not only should he not be praised but he should be condemned for betraying his loyalty to Morton-Thiokol. We need a theory of whistle-blowing that can explain why cases like that of Boisjoly are justified.

11 Complicity Theory of W-B W-B is morally required if: (C1) What you reveal derives from your work at the organization. (C2) You are a voluntary member of that organization. (C3) You believe that the organization is engaged in serious moral wrongdoing. (C4) You believe that your work will contribute to the wrongdoing if you do not reveal it publicly. (C5) You are justified in your beliefs regarding C3 and C4. (C6) Beliefs C3 and C4 are true.

12 What about Boisjoly? Though he has problems with the standard theory, he does quite well with the complicity theory. (C1) Boisjoly’s testimony consisted of information regarding his work for Thiokol. (C2) Boisjoly was voluntarily employed with Thiokol. (C3) Boisjoly was convinced that Thiokol was misleading the commission. (C4) The information he passed on to his superiors was used in the cover-up, thus he was complicit in the cover- up. (C5) Boisjoly was justified in his beliefs. (C6) Boisjoly’s beliefs were true.

13 “W-B and Employee Loyalty” Duska begins by examining the notion that whistle-blowing requires a moral justification. He then goes on to examine notions of loyalty, ultimately concluding that companies are not something that can legitimately demand loyalty. He concludes that if employees do not owe loyalty to their employers then there is no need to morally justify whistle-blowing.

14 Company Loyalty? Loyalty is a wholehearted devotion to another person. Loyalty entails self-sacrifice without the expectation of reward. We can have loyalty to groups that are bound by mutual fulfillment and support. Companies are not such groups since they are solely bound by division of labor and the generation of profit.

15 Loyalty and W-B A common suggestion is that w-b is disloyal because it is analogous to calling a foul on your own team (158). Duska argues that this is a bad analogy: business has no end with clear winners or losers such as in a game; the “game” of business affects all stakeholders, not just the “players” who actually work in the firm. Thus, there is no duty of loyalty owed to an employer and since employees do not owe a duty of loyalty to their employers there is no need for a moral justification for whistle- blowing.

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