[Foundation-l] Audit charter and whistleblower policy
Anthere9 at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 19 07:47:34 UTC 2007
> On 6/15/07, Florence Devouard <Anthere9 at yahoo.com> wrote:
>> * and a whistleblower policy
>> Not much more to say :-)
>> If you have any issue to raise, any criticism, or whatever, please do
>> not hesitate to comment.
> My initial reaction to the whistleblower policy was that it was a very
> bad policy. However, I thought maybe I was just overreacting, so I
> didn't comment on it. Then I asked Danny, who is a former employee of
> the corporation, what he thought. His response, which I'm not going
> to get into in detail on this list, expressed the exact same concern
> that I had. The policy leaves the executive director and board chair
> in a position of ultimate authority. And there isn't even an
> executive director right now.
> The rest of my comments are my own, and not derived from Danny's.
> "If any employee reasonably believes that some policy, practice, or
> activity of Wikimedia Foundation Inc is in violation of law, a written
> complaint must be filed by that employee with the Executive Director
> or the Board Chair." The word "must" there is incredibly disturbing.
> It also bothers me that employees are the ones expected to sign this
> policy. Looking at this policy, it seems to me that it will only
> serve to stifle the spread of information. Anything anyone believes
> to be illegal must be reported to the board chair. The board chair is
> not required by the policy to do *anything at all* with that
> I don't understand what the purpose was of the whistleblower policy,
> but it doesn't seem like it serves any positive purpose.
Please first read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistleblower to fully
understand the basics of the whistleblower issue.
The purpose of a whistleblower policy is largely to protect employees
when they are reporting illegal activity, in particular illegal activity
from one of their "superior" (hierarchically speaking, eg, a person who
can fire them). In the absence of a policy, an employee could report one
of his boss is acting illegally and as a consequence, be fired, or be
mishandled (get no raise, have responsabilities removed etc...)
The whistleblower policy is a statement from the management and board,
saying that it is okay to report illegal activity and that you can not
be punished if you do that.
However, to avoid simple baseless bad-mouthing, the protection is only
given if the employee comes with arguments, facts, figures, photos, any
type of evidence or at a minimum information strongly supporting the
suspicion of abuse. In the absence of significant documentation, an
accusation from an employee will be perceived as personal attacks, and
no protection will be offered. This is also a good way to prevent
constant recrimination against another person. In short, if an employee
has a base for complain, he is protected. If he is just bad-mouthing
with no argument, then there is no protection.
The policy we agreed upon is a fairly common one. It really holds
nothing special. It was reviewed by a lawyer.
Ultimately, an employee might refuse to sign it. I am fine with the
concept. But then, if he reports something illegal, whether based or
not, then is fired by his immediate boss as a retaliation act, then, I
believe he can not easily connect the fact he is fired from the fact he
The main reason why this policy was adopted is that this issue was
raised in the past; by Danny himself, who told me once he did not dare
report something, because he feared he would be fired. Well, with this
policy, and if he had signed it, he would be protected. The important
point is that legally speaking, when there is an illegal activity going
on around you, you are supposed to report it. If a kid is killed and you
know the murderer, you are bound by law to report the name (unless it is
someone family related etc...). However, an employee could argue he did
not respect the law, because he feared being fired for reporting the
abuse. With that policy, he can not claim that he would be fired. The
important part in this is that if the employee is aware of illegal
activity, and does not report it, then he is "sharing" the
responsability and becoming himself part of the abuse. Consequently,
this is a powerful tool to ensure that abuse is reported.
The second reason why the policy was adopted now is that we expect to
have a new ED very soon. Which means that the board will be "further"
from the staff and the staff mostly work with the ED. In case there is
anything wrong going on with the ED, the staff can report to the chair,
and they will be protected through the policy.
At the same time, it protects the ED, as employees can not do
bad-mouthing without facts. In short, if an employee comes to us and say
"the ED is securing money for himself", the answer we can give is "do
you have proof of that accusation ? If you do, then please provide the
documentation, and you are protected by the policy. If you don't, please
keep your opinions to yourself; thanks".
Note that the dual reporting system makes it possible to report to the
ED of an abuse by the chair. Note, for now, this policy has not been
signed by any staff member. It must be signed voluntarily.
Last, the issue of the chair not being required by the policy to act if
he is reported an illegal issue. It is not necessary to mention in the
policy that the chair must act in case he is informed of abuse, because
he is required to act in case of abuse. "All corporate powers shall be
exercised by or under the authority of, and the business and affairs of
the Foundation shall be managed under, the direction of the Board of
Trustees." In case of non-action when abuse is reported, the chair is
the first in line and usually gets consequences much heavier than simply
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