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Did you complain about something you believed was illegal? Did you refuse to engage in something you believed was illegal?
When an employee alerts the public to an employer’s illegal conduct, it is said they are “blowing the whistle,” and they are referred to as whistleblowers. Those who blow the whistle often are reporting fraud, general misconduct, or safety violations.
These brave individuals work with the public’s best interests in mind to tell authorities when employers are acting unethically. To encourage whistleblowers to speak up, a number of federal and state laws have been enacted to protect them against retaliation and discrimination in the workplace.
There is often confusion around whether a whistleblower can be fired if he works in an employment at-will state. These states allow an employer to legally fire an employee at any given time for any reason, as long as there is no contract binding the employee and employer together for a specific period of time.
However, there are some exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine. One of these exceptions states employees cannot be fired when the termination involves a violation of public interest. This exception to the employment at-will doctrine protects whistleblowing employees since they are acting in the best interest of the public, and therefore cannot be terminated for their actions.
Because so many whistleblowers reveal employer misconduct that puts employees’ safety at risk, many of the whistleblower laws are governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A few of these laws include the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Clean Air Act, and Section 402 of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Under these laws and many others, employers cannot retaliate against whistleblowers by denying overtime, refusing to promote them, suspending them from their job, or taking any other adverse, unwarranted action.
One federal law, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, was put in place solely to protect federal employees. This law states in order for an employee to prove a whistleblowing claim, he must be able to show he disclosed private information that he believed violated the law and as a result, he was subject to retaliation. Although this law only applies to federal employees, there are others that offer all whistleblower employees protection, regardless of where you work or who employs you.
Many people refrain from blowing the whistle on their employer’s misconduct because they fear being discriminated against for choosing to do the ethically right thing. But, this should never be a concern. Employees cannot be discriminated or retaliated against because of their decision to report employer misconduct, so you should never let this fear get in your way.
Laws protecting whistleblowers can get a bit complicated, so you will need to work with an attorney who has experience defending victims like you. Speak with the team of attorneys at Shegerian Conniff to discuss your case and determine what legal options are available to you. Our attorneys can help you if you are deciding whether or not you should blow the whistle or if you already have and are now being discriminated or retaliated against.