The term “whistle-blower” refers to a person who takes the initiative to disclose corruption or wrongdoing by the company or organization they work at for the sake of the public interest.
The staff of an enterprise or agency are better placed than anyone else to know if their employer is engaged in any misconduct.
However, if someone discloses an employer’s corruption or wrongdoing, that entity is almost certain to carry out an investigation to determine the identity of the informant and may take retaliatory action, such as harassment, punishment, transfer and perhaps dismissal.
It is common for companies to file lawsuits against employees for leaking confidential information or damaging its reputation.
In addition, the motives behind a whistle-blower’s disclosure may also be questioned and the person defamed for being an informant, or even put on a blacklist so they will not be hired by other companies in the same industry.
Other employees are unwilling to disclose their companies’ misdeeds because they run the risk of losing their jobs, even if they disagree with what the firm is doing. Apart from pretending that they do not see what is going on, or simply quitting their jobs, they do not seem to have any other alternatives, except becoming an accomplice in exchange for substantial benefits, as some workers do.
A look around the world shows that large corporations have engaged in corruption and wrongdoing frequently in recent years. Most of these cases were revealed by whistle-blowers or related businesses.
Australia, Japan, the UK and the US have all established mechanisms to protect whistle-blowers that encourage workers to monitor their employers and implement company self-management.
For example, many cases of food product mislabeling, and usage of inferior ingredients and raw materials in food like those that have emerged in Taiwan recently have also occurred in Japan. These cases led the Japanese government to pass the Whistle-Blower Protection Act in 2004 to protect the safety, right to work and privacy of informants.
Occupational safety and health issues in Taiwan are mainly regulated by the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) and the Labor Safety and Health Act (職業安全衛生法).
Article 74 of the Labor Standards Act states that: “A worker may, upon discovery of any violation by the business entity of the Act and other labor statutes and administrative regulations, file a complaint with the employer, the competent authorities or the inspection agencies. An employer may not discharge, transfer or take any unfavorable measure against the worker who files a complaint.”
In addition, Article 39 of the Labor Safety and Health Act states that a worker may file a complaint with their employer, the relevant authorities or inspection agencies if they discover any violation by the business entity of the Labor Safety and Health Act or other labor statutes or administrative regulations; or when a worker has a suspected occupational disease; or when they have been abused physically or psychologically.
Are these regulations being effectively implemented and enforced? What steps can be taken to increase employees’ willingness to file a complaint against their employer while ensuring the whistle-blower’s privacy and protecting them from retaliation?
These are some of the many important workplace issues that need to be addressed urgently.
Cheng Ya-wen is an associate professor in the Institute of Health Policy and Management at National Taiwan University.
Translated By Eddy Chang