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Who should be protected by whistleblower policy?

Your Legal Questions Answered

Who should be protected by whistleblower policy?

Is a whistleblower policy created solely to protect staff or do its protections extend to protect trustees and volunteers?

The extent of a whistleblower policy is generally a question of policy for the organization to decide on its own.  The Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower protections apply only to those who give information to federal investigators, not to state or local government investigators or internal investigators.  State whistleblower protection varies widely, and is often essentially non-existent. 

From the point of view of a director responsible for running an organization, I would like the policy to cover as many people associated with the organization as possible, including board, volunteers, service recipients and even vendors.   It should protect good faith questions about compliance with internal policies, contractual duties and perhaps even ethical issues as well as potential illegal or criminal acts.  If there is a problem within the organization, I would like to know about an issue and attempt to deal with it while it is a small problem, before the question comes from a governmental investigator or an inquiring reporter.

Many situations that become public through prosecutions or unfavorable news reports get to that point because the person concerned with the issue has felt that there was no other way to correct the situation other than going outside the organization.  A good whistleblower policy, and good follow-up, will be more likely to draw attention to the situation internally before it becomes a public issue to the detriment of the organization.

What core policies should a nonprofit have in place? Does your organization have a whistleblower policy? Learn more by listening to our webinar - 5 Critical Policies for Nonprofits.  We cover the following:
Conflict of Interest
Document Retention

Monday, December 7, 2009


A strong whistle blower policy does not necessarily prevent retaliation, and it seems that retaliation is common. Then one usually has to go to court to get redress. Better to have the whistleblower policy than not, but it seems to be of limited use. It would be great if people would accept complaints and good faith questions and deal with them, but an amazing number of people are too petty, self-absorbed and short-sighted to do so.

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