Cornell University

January 21 2011

Workplace Whistleblowing

Lieberwitz presenting workshop on shift in law

Risa LieberwitzIn a Tuesday workshop at ILR, Professor Risa Lieberwitz will discuss the potential of whistleblowing protection in the United States for increasing the collective power of employees.

Restrictions in legislation and through judicial interpretation have removed much whistleblowing potential to fight against employee and public vulnerability in the face of employer and corporate power, she said in an interview.

Employee speech about health, safety and other workplace conditions, along with employee speech about employer misconduct endangering public's health and safety, creates an alliance between employee labor interests and the public’s interests in health and safety, Lieberwitz said.

However, legislation enacted in 2002 undermines the potential of whistleblowing to promote employee and public interests against corporate power, she said.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 -- known as "SOX" -- and subsequent federal legislation protects whistleblowing as individual employee reports of corporate securities fraud.

Under the law, employees are encouraged to report internally to independent audit committees of corporate boards of directors, she said.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act makes a qualitative shift in the interests protected by employee whistleblowing, said Lieberwitz, professor of labor and employment law.

Instead of the allying collective labor and public interests, she said, the law’s focus shifts to employee whistleblowing to promote corporate capitalist and shareholder interests.

Tuesday's presentation will address the significance of this shift and will critique the focus on capitalist interests, she said, "as undermining the potential for whistleblowing to protect employees' independent collective voice and their ability to build alliances with the broader public."

"Workplace Whistelblowing: Controversies and Contradictions" is free and open to the Cornell community. It begins at 4:30 p.m. in Room 381 of Ives Hall.