Given the importance of organizational whistleblowing, the purpose of this study is to investigate the relationships among individuals’ perceptions of moral intensity, ethical decision making, and whistleblowing intentions. Using information collected from employees’ working for varied firms, the analysis indicates that several dimensions of moral intensity, predominantly seriousness of consequences and social consensus, are positively related to components of ethical decision making, namely the recognition and perceived importance of an ethical issue, ethical judgment, and ethical intention. The results also show that the recognition and perceived importance of an ethical issue and ethical judgment are positively related to whistleblowing intention. Finally, seriousness of consequences is positively related to whistleblowing intention. The managerial implications of these findings are discussed, including the development of an ethical work context and programs that enhance ethical sensitivity. The research limitations and suggestions for future research are also highlighted.
The frequency of whistleblowing has been increasing in organizations (e.g., Bhal & Dadhich, 2011; Bowen, Call, & Rajgopal, 2010; Clements & Shawver, 2011; Dasgupta & Kesharwani, 2010; Miceli & Near, 1985), often driven by corporate scandals that raise public concern over misconduct (e.g., Bhal & Dadhich, 2011; Dasgupta & Kesharwani, 2010; Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005). Given their controversial role, whistleblowers are sometimes considered “problem employees” because they alert others to wrongdoing, thus harming the reputations of their employers (e.g., Barnett, Cochran, & Taylor, 1993). Alternatively, they can be recognized as legitimate contributors who are worthy of protection (e.g., Callahan & Dworkin, 2000; Lewis, 2011; Liu, Lio, & Wei, 2015; Near & Miceli, 1985) because their actions are beneficial and alert inside/outside parties of wrongdoing. This notion is especially pertinent in the post Enron-era, with whistleblowing being viewed favorably because of its role in preventing financial improprieties (see Gao & Brink, 2017). Legislation has also been passed to encourage and protect whistleblowing in the United States, including the Whistleblower Protection Act, Dodd-Frank Act, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, and Consumer Protection Act (Bowen et al., 2010; Brink, Lowe, & Victoravich, 2017; Dasgupta & Kesharwani, 2010; Robinson, Robertson, & Curtis, 2012). Given this interest, it is important to identify the factors that prompt whistleblowing in the workplace – this study specifically focuses on characteristics elemental to the ethical decision-making process that likely motivate employees to report.