Why risk your job over dodgy software?

Following a FAST report into attitudes to illegal software use, on Billy MacInnes asks if it's really much of a surprise that few people are prepared to blow the whistle and risk their job?

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be completely unsurprised that most employees would not blow the whistle on their employers if they suspected their company was using illegal software.

According to the third annual survey into attitudes in the workplace towards illegal products from the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), many people were concerned they might lose their jobs if they blew the whistle. A third just didn’t care what was going on and one in seven were put off by the negative media coverage of high-profile whistle-blowing cases.

FAST CEO Alex Hilton acknowledged that “the majority of staff seem to be of the opinion that software theft in the workplace simply isn’t their problem” and that “self-preservation seems to be the order of the day, with staff fearing for their jobs and their reputations”.

He sought to assuage some of those concerns by stressing that employees blowing the whistle on their employers were protected by law “and serious compensation can be payable if your employer acts illegally when a protected disclosure is made”.

All well and good, but the fact is that whistle-blowing is not a painless option. According to the UK government website, workers need to check their employment contract to see if there is a whistle-blowing procedure. If they feel they can, they should tell their employer about the issue. If not, they should contact a prescribed person or body.

Now, the government web site may well state that workers can’t be dismissed because of whistle-blowing but that doesn’t mean they won’t be. While workers are eligible for protection from dismissal in certain instances (and that includes issues such as illegal activity by the company), it only applies if they are dismissed and then make a claim for unfair dismissal.

No surprise then, that a lot of people are put off blowing the whistle on their employer when the threat of dismissal is so strong. It’s also worth mentioning that, thanks to newly enacted government legislation, employees that have been dismissed unfairly by employers for whistle-blowing who seek to make a claim for unfair dismissal have to fork out £250 to make a claim and a further £950 for the hearing.

In other words, if someone does the honourable thing and reports their employer for using software illegally, they could lose their job and have to pay £1,100 for the privilege of making a claim for unfair dismissal. If they win, they could get their job back but they might not. If not, the compensation payable to the former employee might not actually be enough to compensate for losing their job.

Given the odds and hassle an employee could face, it’s surprising anyone would be willing to take the risk in blowing the whistle on their employer.

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