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Whistleblowing and Sarbanes-Oxley Act

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Week 3 Assignment 1: Whistleblowing and Sarbanes-Oxley Act
Michelle M. Webb
Dr. Boneita Campbell
LEG500 Law, Ethics, and Corporate Governance
April 20, 2015

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Week 3 Assignment 1: Whistleblowing and Sarbanes-Oxley Act Who are Whistleblowers and what do they do? Could you be a Whistleblower? There are several definitions for the term whistleblower. The most accurate and significant definitions to the subject of this paper are the definition given by the Black’s Law Dictionary and the one by the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). The Black’s Law Dictionary defines a whistleblower as a worker who declines to participate in and informs on the unlawful and/or unjust actions of his co-workers or his employer ("The Law Dictionary", n.d.). The WPA defines whistleblowing as the disclosure of facts an employee deems proof of unlawful acts of, blatant misconduct, exploitation of authority, and could jeopardize public safety (Molzen, 2002).
Over the years many U.S. workers have observed unlawful transgressions within the workplace and have come forward to report these actions. The actions of these noble citizens (whistleblowers) have been instrumental in saving enormous amounts of money and countless lives over the years. However, these whistleblowers fail to receive the recognition and admirations they deserve for doing the right thing. More often than not they are badgered, bullied, demoted, and terminated from their jobs for their efforts. Therefore, the act of whistleblowing is a decision that must be carefully weighed considering all possibilities and repercussions thoroughly before going forward.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has established a three question guideline for those considering to blow the whistle the questions are as follows: 1. Is the wrongful act(s) significant enough to necessitate threat of retaliation as well as the contribution of individual and monetary means necessary to reveal it? 2. Are these act(s) realistic and can these acts be proven? 3. Will bringing these actions to light help in the resolution? (Molzen, 2002).
Whistleblowers are often faced with the dilemma of duty versus income. That is the duty of an employee to the organization he or she works for, as well as the duty to that individuals own sense of morality versus the income or loss of said income should the individual or organization retaliate.
In July of 2014, 13 flight attendants of United Airline refused to board an international flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong after threatening graffiti was found on the tail of the 747 they were boarding (Phillip, 2014). The graffiti boosted the words, “BYE, BYE” and included two smiley faces, one with an expression of evil intentions (Phillip, 2014). The attendants all veteran employees with exemplary records and almost 300 years of collective work experience; reported they requested that the passengers and crew debark the plane while a thorough inspection be performed (Jansen, 2014). A request they made to insure the safety of the plane for flight but their request was refused.
United explained the plane had already been inspected according to FAA requirements and their own safety protocols prior to boarding and nothing was found. However, the graffiti was spotted by one of the pilots after said inspections, inspections which failed to spot the graffiti on the plane’s tail located thirty feet above ground (Jansen, 2014). In light of the recent controversy of missing and downed planes the attendants refused supervisory orders to fly. As a result of the crew shortage the flight was subsequently cancelled.
The attendants were terminated for being insubordinate. The 13 whistleblowers collective complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) insists that they be defended and kept safe from reprisal for airing a warning of air safety and security for the passengers and crew on board that plane (Jansen, 2014). They are asking for the return of their jobs, lost earnings, and compensation for legal fees. This is a fair and reasonable request. As they were only doing what they felt was the right thing to do.
The whistleblowers in this case are justified in that they were right to voice their concern for the safety of their passengers and themselves. Lately, the media has been rife with accounts of airplane threats. Planes have been shot down, have disappeared, and recently alerts were made warning of electronic devices such as cell phones and tablets being possible incendiary devices for explosives. These 13 whistleblowing employees were right to demand a second complete tip-to-tail inspection of the plane they were about to board. United Airlines regardless of whether a second search of that nature delayed take-off for an hour or several hours should have done what was necessary to allay their fears for the sake of their employees and their passengers. Had they responded to the needs of their employees and reacted in a reasonable thorough inspection this could have bolstered the loyalty of their employees and proven they care about the passengers who fly United. However, now the United organization just looks like a big conglomerate that only cares about money. United has lost the trust of their employees and stands loose future business as well.
United’s 13 former employees would not be protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as the act firmly bans any publicly traded organization from victimizing employees who legally supply evidence and/or help in the inquiry of behaviors said employee deems plausibly represents a breach of the Federal Securities laws (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012). This case was not a case of fraud or the intent of an individual or organization trying to defraud the government. However as this case was reported to OSHA under the Department of Labor as an infringement of employee safety; there is hope that these 13 whistleblowers, who did the right thing, will receive their just rewards.

References
Halbert, T., & Ingulli, E. (2012). Law and Ethics in the Business Environment (7th ed.). Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning.
Jansen, B. (2014). USA Today.com. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/01/07/united-flight-attendants-security-san-francisco-hong-kong/21380813/
Molzen, P. (2002). What is a whistleblower?. Nebraska Nurse, 35(2), 33.
Phillip, A. (2014). Washington Post.com. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2015/01/08/13-united-flight-attendants-want-their-jobs-back-after-refusing-to-fly-on-a-plane-defaced-with-a-creepy-message/
The Law Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://thelawdictionary.org/

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