What is whistleblowing?
An individual who discloses information, either internally (e.g., manager, compliance officer, hotline) or externally (e.g., regulatory agencies, media, lawmakers, watch dog organizations) that he/she reasonably believes evidences a violation of a law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
A whistleblower is:
- Often a current/former worker with credible information about wrongdoing/illegality witnessed on the job.
- Someone who discloses issues that require change to comply with law or to protect public interest.
Whistleblowing is a serious and often complex matter. Make sure that you know the facts before acting.
Best practices for healthcare organizations
Report suspected violations or wrongdoing internally
- Contact the Compliance Office, the safety/compliance hotline, or
use chain of command. This is consistent with advice provided by the
Office of Inspector General, Department of Justice, and U.S. Sentencing
- Seek to resolve issues internally before involving a government agency to oversee the process.
- Support an organizational culture of transparency and continuous improvement. Workers have an important role in ensuring safe/quality care and a duty to report suspected wrongdoing/ violations.
- EXCEPTION: Securities law violations - Anti-Retaliation Protections only extend to workers who have reported securities law violations externally to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Be alert for practices/documents appearing to block workers from reporting violations externally
Organizational Compliance/Human Resources documents should not limit the worker’s ability to:
- File charges/complaints with any federal, state, or local governmental agency or commission.
- Limit the worker’s right to communicate with any government agency or participate in any investigation or proceeding that such an agency may conduct.
- A healthcare organization’s code of conduct, compliance policies and compliance training should promote internal communication and specify that workers have a duty and right to report wrongdoing and legal violations (without retribution or retaliation).
Considerations for healthcare whistleblowing
If an illegal or unethical practice is identified, reserve judgment until adequate documentation is collected
- Individual(s) engaged in unethical or illegal conduct will not welcome inquiry into their practice.
- Collect data to substantiate the claim; remember that you are not protected from retaliation in a whistle-blower situation until you blow the whistle.
- Blowing the whistle means that you report your concern(s) to the national and/or state agency responsible for regulation of the organization for which you work; criminal activity includes reports to law enforcement agencies.
- Reporting recommendations: put complaint(s) in writing; document objectively; retain documentation of events, including all interactions related to the whistle-blowing situation.
Before you report
- Seek counsel of someone you trust outside of the situation to provide an objective perspective.
- Consult with WSNA or legal counsel, if possible, before acting to determine how best to document/communicate concern(s).