If the employees in an organisation perceive serious deficiencies or irregularities and then find out that they are rejected or ignored with their information, it can happen that they turn to external recipients. So long as they keep within the organisation and use the conventional channels, they are called internal whistleblowers. The non-executive board is already considered an external recipient, as is the works council unless agreed otherwise, certainly the prosecutors and the media.
Whistleblowers are typically employees of long standing who have shown a high degree of loyalty to their organisation, who carry some management responsibility, and who have so far received positive references. They almost always avoid going public hastily, have very often abided the problem for years, and have given indications to the problem even years ago. After all they harbour little hope for change. At some point, though, the pressure grows too much, they can no longer look on and they turn to external institutions or the public, often knowing that this will have negative consequences.
Even if the employee who raises objections internally doesn't come under pressure from colleagues or superiors early on, enormous pressure is likely to build up, against which not even the media can protect him or her, often quite to the contrary.
Often whistleblowers introduce themselves with the words: ”I've lost my wealth and my health.” Even the internal whistleblower is threatened with the entire range of harassments. If he goes public, he will usually lose his job and aside from labour law suits may have to face claims for damages, injunctions and criminal prosecution. In the US and Britain, where whistleblowing has been an issue for decades, it has been found that those who step forward often lose their marriages, friendships, home and health, become depressed and suicidal. We have to see this against a background in which only shortly before the whistleblowing event the same people would have been considered quite ordinary and even high performing employees. This seeming transformation is, by the way, independent of the whether their information was suited to shield their organisation from greater damage or whether the indicated deficiencies were minor or primarily subjectively perceptible.
German labour law prohibits unfair discrimination and penalisation. In practice, protection is often not substantial and particularly the more subliminal forms of harassment can neither be proven nor prevented.
On the other hand external whistleblowing will often breach explicit terms of the employment contract, occasionally even contravene criminal law. In that case a whistleblower may find himself with no protection against dismissal.
The consultation approach followed here is based on the assumption that the whistleblower will be best protected when external whistleblowing becomes superfluous because internal information is already handled constructively. External whistleblowing may become extremely important for protecting the public welfare or individual goods of high value. Under certain circumstances it must therefore be acceptable. Unfair discrimination should not be viewed legitimate at any time. Of course, it is necessary to keep in mind that an organisation may be threatened with unbearable hazards, if whistleblowers go public without good reason.