Whistleblowers are people who report wrongdoing that they’ve witnessed at their workplace. This wrongdoing could be anything from safety violations to abuses of power. If you’re thinking of sharing information, you may be afraid that your employer will retaliate against you. You might fear that your employer will fire you, or that you could face harassment at work. You may also worry that your employer will make it difficult for you to find a new job if you decide to resign.
If your employer does retaliate against you, you can take legal action. Here are your rights as a whistleblower and your legal options if you need to press charges against your employer and protect your rights.
Protected Whistleblower Activities
Protected whistleblower activities vary by state. Some states say that you must tell your employer before you report their wrongdoing, while others do not have this stipulation. If you’re unsure about protected activities in your state, be sure to consult a lawyer who specializes in employment law. Generally, whistleblowers are protected if they’re reporting:
- Abuses of authority
- Hazardous situations
- Safety violations
You’re also protected if your employer falsely accuses you of whistleblowing and fires you for it. If this happens to you, you can get whistleblower protection from the court.
There are some activities that are not protected under whistleblower law, including getting into a physical fight with an employer. For example, if someone gets into an argument with their boss when they’re revealing their whistleblowing activities and hits them, they’re not protected from being fired.
Whistleblower Law for Federal Employees
Federal employees are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which Congress passed in 2012. This act is an expanded version of the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was first put through in 1989. The law protects whistleblowers when they’re reporting wastes of funds, mismanagement, fraud, and abuses of authority. Federal whistleblowers also do not have to tell their employers before they report their wrongdoing.
Before Congress expanded the Whistleblower Protection Act, federal employees who reported wrongdoing were only given whistleblower rights if they were the first one to report the issue. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act made it so anyone who reports wrongdoing is protected. It also expanded the free speech rights for whistleblowers. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act also created specific protection for federal workers in the science field who are challenging censorship. In addition, the new law allows government contractors to make whistleblowing disclosures to Congress.
Statute of Limitation in Whistleblower Cases
A statute of limitation is the period of time that you have to bring legal action against someone after first filing your claim. The statutes of limitation on whistleblower claims are generally short. For federal workers filing a claim with OSHA, the statute of limitation can be as little as thirty days. For union workers, you may only have three days to file your claim. State workers generally have a ten day statute of limitation.
Types of Employer Retaliation
Whistleblower laws protect whistleblowers from employer retaliation. Employer retaliations can range from firing you to smaller, subtle things, like reducing your pay or hours. According to the United States Department of Labor, these are all types of employer retaliations:
- Harassment and threats
- Denying benefits
- Failure to rehire
- Reduced pay
- Denying overtime
- Denying promotions
Proving that Protected Activities Caused Retaliation
To prove that your employer retaliated against you, you’ll typically need to show three things. You’ll have to show that you engaged in a protected activity. You’ll also need to prove that your employer knew you did this protected activity. In addition, you’ll need to show that you suffered an adverse employment action. An adverse employment action is usually something that costs you money, such as a demotion or losing overtime. Being formally disciplined is also a type of adverse employment action.
If you can prove these three things, you’ll have a strong anti-retaliation case. Be sure to keep records of every interaction with your employer, including emails and phone messages. Even if you don’t have any direct evidence, you may still have a good case. If your employer starts treating you negatively after whistleblowing, the court can infer that the whistleblowing was the direct cause of that action.
Choosing to Whistle Blow Anonymously
If you live in a state where you are able to whistle blow without telling your employer, you could choose to do your whistleblowing anonymously. If you file anonymously, your boss may never learn that you were the whistleblower, and you’ll be able to continue working at your job with no issue.
There are some problems that could arise from whistleblowing anonymously. Your boss may target one of your coworkers instead, and they could fire them or make their life at work difficult. Then, you’ll have to decide if you want to come clean to save your coworker from harassment.
Your employer may also guess that you’re the whistleblower, and they could be upset that you did your whistleblowing anonymously. Because of that, they may treat you more harshly than they would have otherwise.
Ultimately, deciding if you want to whistle blow anonymously or reveal your identity is a personal decision. Spend some time weighing the pros and cons of both courses of action before choosing which way is best for you.
How Defense Attorneys Can Help Whistleblowers
Whistleblowing is a complicated process that varys greatly from state-to-state. When you’re filing claims against your employer, you’ll want a defense lawyer who specializes in employment law on your side. A defense lawyer will be able to help you navigate tricky anti-retaliation laws. They’ll help you understand the whistleblower laws for your state, and they’ll walk you through the federal whistleblower laws that you need to know.
If you have any questions about your whistleblowing case or are seeking legal representation, call us at the Brown Firm PLLC. The Brown Firm PLLC will be able to help you file a claim and will navigate you through the whistleblowing court proceedings.