Know Your Rights: Big Tech Whistleblowers
On October 5, a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, testified before Congress about her experience working for the tech behemoth, as well as the tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents she released. Among her claims was the evidence that Facebook knowingly allows its platforms to damage the mental health of young users, weaken our democracy, and even cause civil unrest overseas by putting profit over moral responsibility.
Disclosures like Haugen’s are essential to our democracy as whistleblowers hold large corporations accountable for the power they have over our society. Facebook’s need for regulation is not new to Congress, but this latest evidence will hopefully make it clear that action needs to be taken, all thanks to a whistleblower.
While we hope that more employees follow Haugen’s heroic lead, it is also a dangerous decision to take on Big Tech corporations. If you are an employee in the technology field and could potentially become a whistleblower, we want you to know your rights when it comes to making your disclosure safely and effectively.
The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 is the most recent and comprehensive piece of legislation that protects corporate whistleblowers. The Dodd-Frank Act is what allowed Haugen to report directly to the SEC before approaching her own corrupt corporation and could potentially protect her from retaliation. While internal reporting is always preferred, it is not always possible, which is why the SEC Whistleblower Program was created.
However, these programs do not entirely protect internal reports. Currently, internal disclosures are not protected unless the whistleblower has also disclosed the violation to the SEC prior to suffering retaliation, and the remedy to combat retaliation during and after employment is weak. Failing to prohibit post-employment retaliation could intimidate the whistleblower and dissuade them from further cooperation or deter current employees thinking about blowing the whistle.
Thankfully, the Whistleblower Protection Reform Act (WPRA) would tackle these problems and clarify protections for whistleblowers at all stages of the truth-telling process. Introduced this year by Congressman Al Green the same week as Haugen’s testimony in front of the Senate, the WPRA would not only protect whistleblowers like Haugen, but our democracy from the power of corrupt corporations.
In the meantime, the first step all whistleblowers should consider is seeking legal counsel from lawyers who are familiar with whistleblower law. Collecting information legally and staying under the radar at your company for as long as possible should be your priority and consulting a legal team will be helpful in navigating this. Many attorneys will give pro bono counsel and can help navigate this complicated legal landscape by informing you which laws apply to your case, the associated risks, and strategies to maximize results and minimize retaliation.
Frances Haugen has joined a long line of courageous workers putting justice above their careers, demonstrating how essential whistleblowers are to our society and what happens when corporations go unchecked. We hope her testimonies will catalyze real change and regulation for all Big Tech companies, but to leave no stone unturned Congress must support more protections for whistleblowers willing to stand up for what is right.