Whistleblower Protection

Imagine that while you are at work, you witness a practice that is in violation of the law. Perhaps you discover that your employer is committing fraud, or illegally dumping industrial waste. Everyone seems to be ignoring the practice, or willfully participating in the actions. You think the violation should be exposed. What will happen to you if you report on the illegal acts of your employer? Will you be sacrificing your job?

This scenario, and the fear of retaliation from an employer are the reasons why whistleblower protection laws have been enacted to protect individuals who expose illegal practices at their places of work. Without whistleblower protections, people would rightly fear that reporting the illegal practices of their employers would cause them to lose their jobs, or at least be demoted or harassed at work. This fear could result in many violations going unreported and leading to highly dangerous health or safety issues, or of people being taken advantage of financially by unethical corporations. Moreover, if the employee does not report the violation, they may end up being a participant in the crime, thereby exposing themselves to liability. If you have reported a violation at work, or believe you should report one, you should learn your rights to ensure that your employer does not retaliate against you.

What laws protect whistleblowers?

There are many federal and state statutes that contain whistleblower provisions. Oftentimes environmental statutes provide whistleblower protection for employees who expose violations of those laws. This would include statutes such as the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, among others. There are also statutes protecting employees who expose corporate fraud, or violations of railroad safety laws. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) enforces whistleblower protection for statutes involving environmental, nuclear, transportation and consumer and investor related laws.

What types of actions are protected by whistleblower laws?

The actions that fall under the protection of whistleblower laws vary depending on which law is relevant for the claim. Some are more limited, allowing only a formal complaint to the appropriate agency. Other times the scope is broader, protecting actions such as releasing information to media outlets, or making a stand at work against the practice by refusing to participate.

What behavior is not protected?

There are times when a whistleblower might make some mistakes in how they address the observed violation. If the whistleblower exhibited extremely hostile or threatening behavior, that might not be protected. Additionally, if an employee makes a false report based on an unreasonable belief that a violation occurred, they might not be protected.

What actions are whistleblowers protected against?

Whistleblowers are protected from retaliation. This would cover formal disciplinary actions, such as termination, demotions, or denials of promotions. If the act costs the whistleblower money, it is likely prohibited. Other less direct forms of retaliation may or may not be prohibited, such as hostility from superiors or co-workers, or transfers. If a court decides the employer’s behavior was particularly egregious and designed to make the employee quit, that might be considered a violation.

What if my employer claims that the actions taken against me were unrelated to the whistleblower case?

Of course, if your boss calls you into his office and says, “I can’t believe you reported us to OSHA, you are obviously not a team player- you are fired!” then you have direct evidence that your dismissal was retaliatory. However, many employers will be smart enough not to come out and say something like this. In the absence of direct evidence, inference might be enough. Inferences could be drawn from the timing of the adverse action, or a pattern of retaliation against employees.

You should also keep in mind that whistleblower laws often have short statues of limitations, so if you have faced retaliation, be sure to report it right away.

In the event that you have suffered retaliation as a result of exposing illegal practices at your place of work, you should contact an employment law attorney to seek compensation and the protection of your rights.

Contact Stern Law, PLLC for A Free Consultation

At Stern Law, PLLC, we have compassionate and caring attorneys ready to work with you to find the best solution to your employment law related legal issues. Contact Stern Law, PLLC today at (844) 808-7529 for a free consolation with an experienced employment attorney.

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