On Snitching at Work: Part II
by Rick Brenner
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 (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 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
Is 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. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send 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.
More articles on Workplace Politics
- Breaking the Rules
- Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
- Political Framing: Strategies
- In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some strategies framers use.
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: Part I
- Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, 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
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 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, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Bedford, Massachusetts: October 21, Monthly Meeting, Boston SPIN.
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: