Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 365–380 | Cite as

Risky Rescues and the Duty to Blow the Whistle

  • Wim Vandekerckhove
  • Eva E. Tsahuridu


This article argues that whilst the idea of whistleblowing as a positive duty to do good or to prevent harm may be defendable, legislating that duty is not feasible. We develop our argument by identifying rights and duties involved in whistleblowing as two clusters: one of justice and one of benevolence. Legislative arguments have evolved to cover the justice issues and the tendency exists of extending rights and duties into the realm of benevolence. This article considers the problematic assumptions and implications of whistleblowing as a positive duty, by examining the extent to which the Good Samaritan argument holds with regard to whistleblowing. We argue that three criteria necessary for whistleblowing as a legally enforceable positive duty are not met, namely that we need to be able to (1) specify who should know what, (2) minimize the risk to the whistleblower and (3) adequately deal with mistaken concerns being raised.


duty legislation obligation right whistleblowing whistleblowing policies 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alford, F.C. 2001. Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Power. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bjørkelo, B., S. Einarsen, M. B. Nielsen and S. B. Matthiesen: in press, ‘Silence is Golden? Characteristics and Experiences of Self-Reported Whistleblowers’, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. doi: 10.1080/13594320903338884.
  3. Boatright, J.R. 2007. Reluctant Guardians: The Moral Responsibility of Gatekeepers. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17(4): 613-32.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, A.J. & Olsen, J. 2008. Whistleblower mistreatment: Identifying the risks, in A.J. Brown (ed) Whistleblowing in the Australian public sector. Canberra: ANU E Press, 137-161.Google Scholar
  5. Callahan, E.S. & Dworkin, T.M. 1994. Who Blows the Whistle to the Media and Why: Organizational Characteristics of Media Whistleblowers. American Business Law Journal, 32(2): 151-84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Calland, R. & Dehn, G. (eds) 2004. Whistleblowing around the World. Cape Town and London: ODAC and PCaW.Google Scholar
  7. Cohen, A. I. 2004. Must Rights Impose Enforceable Positive Duties? Journal of Social Philosophy, 35(2): 264-276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dozier, J.B. & Miceli, M.P. 1985. Potential Predictors of Whistle Blowing: A Prosocial Behavior Perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 10(4): 823–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dworkin, T.M. & Near, J.P. 1987. Whistleblowing Statutes. Are They Working? American Business Law Journal, 25(2): 241-64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fabre, C. 2002. Good Samaritanism: A Matter of Justice. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 5(4): 128-144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Freeman, R. E. and S. Sonenshein: 2000, ‘A Note on Rights, UVA-E-0188’, Social Science Research Network.
  12. Grant, C. 2002. Whistle Blowers: Saints of a Secular Culture. Journal of Business Ethics, 39(4): 391-99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Groeneweg, S.: 2001, ‘Three Whistleblower Protection Models: A Comparative Analysis of Whistleblower Legislation in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom’, Working Paper, Public Service Commission of Canada, Comparative Merit Systems Unit Research Directorate.Google Scholar
  14. Hassink, H., de Vries, M. and Bollen, L. 2007. A Content Analysis of Whistleblowing Policies of Leading European Companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 75: 25-44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jubb, P. B.: 1999, `Whistleblowing: A Restrictive Definition and Interpretation', Journal of Business Ethics 21(1), 77–94. doi: 10.1023/A:1005922701763.
  16. Kamm, F. M. 1986. Harming, not Aiding and Positive Rights. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 15(1): 3-32.Google Scholar
  17. Kant, I.: 1785/1959, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (L. W. Beck, Trans.) (The Library of Liberal Arts, Indianapolis).Google Scholar
  18. Kaptein, M. and Wempe, J. 2002. The Balanced Company. A Theory of Corporate Integrity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Keenan, J. P.: 1990, A New Perspective on Whistleblowing: Theories and Hypotheses. Paper presented at the New York State Sociological Association Conference, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Kraakman, R.H. 1986. Gatekeepers: The Autonomy of a Third-Party Enforcement Strategy. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, 2(1): 53-104.Google Scholar
  21. Lewis, D. 2006. The Contents of Whistleblowing/Confidential Reporting Procedures in the UK: Some Lessons from Empirical Research. Employee Relations, 28(1): 76-86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lewis, D. 2008. Ten Years of Public Interest Disclosure Legislation in the UK: Are Whistleblowers Adequately Protected? Journal of Business Ethics 82(2): 497-507. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lovell, A. 2002. Moral Agency as Victim of the Vulnerability of Autonomy. Business Ethics, A European Review, 11(1): 62-76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Malm, H. M. 2000. Bad Samaritan Laws: Harm, Help, or Hype? Law and Philosophy, 19: 707-750.Google Scholar
  25. McCabe, L. 1984. Police Officers’ Duty to Rescue or Aid: Are They Only Good Samaritans? California Law Review, 72(4): 661-696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Miceli, M.P. & Near, J.P. 1984. The Relationships among Beliefs, Organizational Position, and Whistle-Blowing Status: A Discriminant Analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 27(4): 687-705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Miceli, M.P. & Near, J.P. 1992. Blowing the Whistle: The Organizational and Legal Implications for Companies and Employees. New York: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  28. Miceli, M.P., Near, J.P. & Dworkin T.M. 2008. Whistle-blowing in Organizations. New York/London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Miethe, T.D. 1999. Whistleblowing at Work. Tough Choices in Exposing Fraud, Waste, and Abuse on the Job. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  30. Moghaddam, F. M., Slocum, N. R., Finkel, N., Mor, T., & Harre, R. 2000. Toward a Cultural Theory of Duties. Culture & Psychology, 6(3): 275-302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Murphy, L. 2001. Beneficence, Law, and Liberty: The Case of Required Rescue. Georgetown Law Journal, 89(3): 605-666.Google Scholar
  32. Nader, R., Petkas, P.J. & Blackwell, K. (eds) 1972. Whistle Blowing: The Report of the Conference on Professional Responsibility. New York: Grossman.Google Scholar
  33. Near, J. P., & Miceli, M. P. 1985. Organizational Dissidence: The Case of Whistle-blowing. Journal of Business Ethics, 4(1): 1-16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Near, J.P. & Miceli, M.P. 1987. Whistle-blowers in Organizations: Dissidents or Reformers?, Research in Organizational Behavior, 9: 321-68.Google Scholar
  35. Near, J.P. & Miceli, M.P. 1995. Effective whistle-blowing. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 679–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. O’Neill, O. 1989. Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Partnoy, F.: 2004, ‘Strict Liability for Gatekeepers. A Response to Professor Coffee’, Research Paper 5, University of San Diego Law and EconomicsGoogle Scholar
  38. PCAW 1999. Public Interest Whistleblowing: a Five Year Review on the activities of Public Concern at Work 1993 to 1998. London: Public Concern at Work.Google Scholar
  39. PCAW 2004. Speak Up or Pay Up: The New Liability on Employees for Workplace Accidents. London: Public Concern at Work.Google Scholar
  40. PCAW: 2005, Submission from Public Concern at Work Addressing the ‘Questions About Whistleblowing’ to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, (Public Concern at Work, London).
  41. PCAW 2010. Where’s Whistleblowing Now? 10 Years of Legal Protection for Whistleblowers. London: Public Concern at Work.Google Scholar
  42. Perry, B. 1998. Indecent Exposures: Theorizing Whistleblowing. Organization Studies, 19(2): 235-57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rawls, J. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Ripstein, A. 2000. Three Duties to Rescue: Moral, Civil, and Criminal. Law and Philosophy, 19: 751-779.Google Scholar
  45. Schmidtz, D. 2000. Islands in a Sea of Obligation: Limits of the Duty to Rescue. Law and Philosophy, 19: 683-705.Google Scholar
  46. Scott, R. 2000. The Pregnant Woman and the Good Samaritan: Can a Woman Have a Duty to Undergo a Caesarean Section? Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 20(3): 407-436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Singer, P. 1972. Famine, Affluence and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1: 229-243.Google Scholar
  48. Smith, R. & Brown, A.J. 2008. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Whistleblowing Outcomes, in A.J. Brown (ed) Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector. Canberra: ANU E Press, 109-135.Google Scholar
  49. Tippett, E. C.: 2006, ‘The Promise of Compelled Whistleblowing: What the Corporate Governance Provisions of Sarbanes Oxley Mean for Employment Law’, . Social Science Research Network.
  50. Tsahuridu, E.E. & Vandekerckhove, W. 2008. Organisational Whistleblowing Policies: Making Employees Responsible or Liable? Journal of Business Ethics, 82(1): 107-118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. UNISON & PCAW 2003. Is Whistleblowing Working in the NHS? The Evidence. London: UNISON.Google Scholar
  52. Vandekerckhove, W. 2006. Whistleblowing and Organizational Social Responsibility. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  53. Vandekerckhove, W. & Commers, M.S.R. 2004. Whistle Blowing and Rational Loyalty. Journal of Business Ethics, 53(1-2): 225-33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Walters, K. D.: 1975, ‘Your Employees’ Right to Blow the Whistle’, Harvard Business Review 534, 26–34; cont. 161–162.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Greenwich Business SchoolLondonU.K.
  2. 2.RMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations