Anyone who follows my talks and writings knows that I have grave concerns about our country and our corporate environment. Unethical and illegal behavior in both our corporate and government arenas caused our last financial crisis and will, inevitably, cause future financial crises which will harm millions more. Our only hope to change the dangerous direction our country is taking is for individuals who witness illegal and unethical behavior to effectively report that behavior.
In all of my talks members of the audience ask me what steps they should take if they see actions that will cause harm to others, and I always caution them to first seek competent legal counsel before taking any action. And when I say “competent” legal counsel, I mean counsel who is both experienced in providing guidance to potential whistleblowers and can be trusted to act in the whistleblower’s best interest. I tell them of people I personally know who were given poor advice and were subsequently retaliated against by their employers with their careers destroyed. I was almost one of those people.
In 2008, when I testified before the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington D.C., I was given legal advice which later turned out not to be in my best interest. And I learned another counsel who had advised me early on blatantly lied and misrepresented my actions in another setting.
Fortunately, Sherron Watkins, the Enron whistleblower, subsequently introduced me to the Government Accountability Project (GAP) of Washington, D.C., the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization, before it was too late. I truly believe listening to their advice and allowing them to represent me in dealing with Citigroup and the many government agencies is the reason I have survived my whistleblowing ordeal. And they kept up with what happened afterward. Recently, I spoke to Ian Herel for an article about my experience.
While I maintain that we should all speak up when we see something wrong, we must take the first step of protecting ourselves with trusted expert advice and representation. Without that, we become vulnerable to powerful employers, subject to retaliation, or forced to sign NDAs so the bad actors can continue to cover up wrongdoing. Continue documenting what you see on your personal devices or notebooks and connect with the GAP before taking any action.