Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard once said: “When you have the opportunity and the ability to do good and you do nothing, that’s evil. Evil doesn’t always have to be an overt act, it can be merely the absence of good.”
While Chouinard admits his definition is different from most people’s, it is interesting to apply his theory to the workplace. If you see something unsafe, illegal or harmful to someone and do nothing about it, how would you feel? What if it later resulted in an accident or serious incident that you might have been able to prevent by speaking up?
The problem is many employees are scared to report the things they see. They believe their employer or the person responsible does not want people to know about it. What’s worse, they fear retaliation if they do report it.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wants you to report dangers or illegal activities at work. Their Whistleblower Protection Program makes it clear that employers are forbidden from taking retaliatory action against an employee who files a report.
Retaliation can take many forms. Many employers opt to take revenge on whistleblowing employees in subtle ways that can be hard to prove. Firing someone is obvious, overlooking them for promotion less so. Threatening someone is likely to be noticed, but manipulating their performance report and using it as a basis not to rehire them, is harder to catch.
If you see something illegal or dangerous at your San Jose workplace, reporting it is the right thing to do. If you have spoken up and feel your employer has taken adverse action against you because of it, seek legal help. The law is on your side.