Posted by: healingtheworkplace | August 10, 2008

Occupational Free Speech

I came across the term occupational free speech while doing some research on whistleblowing. At the end of this post I’ll tell you about two organizations that are working on our behalf to safeguard our right to occupational free speech.

In my last post I wrote about workplace Codes of Conduct…which got me interested in learning more about whistleblowing. 

Canada Post has an interesting code that includes a reference to whistleblowing. Unfortunately I was not able to access their guidelines for whistleblowers as these are reserved for Canada Post employees.

So, what is a whistleblower and where did this term come from?

The original whistleblowers were English bobbies who blew their whistles to alert other bobbies and the public that a crime was in progress.

 Wikipedia provides the following definition of a whistleblower:

A whistleblower is an employee, former employee or member of an organization/government agency who reports misconduct to those who have the power and presumed willingness to take corrective action.

Most whistleblowers are internal…that is they are working within an organization. Of course this is not always the case. One of my favorite movies is “Erin Brockovich” starring Julie Roberts.

This movie is based on the true story of a woman named Erin Brockovich who blew the whistle on a large organization that was contaminating ground water in a small town in California.

Whistleblowing in organizations has become much more common in the past decade perhaps in part because of the success of women like Erin Brockovich and Sharon Watkins (Enron). 

It is because whistleblowing has become more common that organizations and governments are putting safeguards into place to protect employees who take it upon themselves to exercise their right to occupational free speech.

A number of companies now have “whistleblower hotlines” which are operated by 3rd parties in an effort to protect the whistleblower. In fact, under Canadian law publicly traded companies MUST now have these hotlines.

The USA has passed legislation to provide private sector workers with whistleblower rights. Two areas that are getting a lot of attention are the environment and consumer product safety.

What can you do if you suspect that the company you work for is dishonest, unethical, and/or doing something that puts people’s health or lives at risk?

Becoming a whistleblower is not something to be taken lightly. Despite the recent legislation intended to protect workers you must be prepared for the possibility that you might lose your job or worse. Of course there are some resources to help you.

GAP or the Government Accountability Project is a 30 year old non profit organization in the USA that promotes government and corporate accountability.

GAP does this by advancing occupatational free speech, defending whistleblowers and empowering citizen advocates. They provide a support network for whistleblowers as well as some concrete steps you can take if you come across some serious wrongdoing in your place of work.

In Canada the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (what a mouthful) is also working toward ensuring effective protection for whistleblowers and occupational free speech for workers.




  1. Here’s one Canada Post Office – thats needs a code of conduct

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