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What Rights Does a Whistleblower Have?
The federal government recognizes that employees are the best eyes and ears for ensuring workplace safety and protecting against questionable behavior. One way the government achieves those goals is by offering protection for "whistleblowing," meaning if a person reports their employer, and is then terminated, the termination was retaliatory and unlawful. Thus, someone who was fired simply for speaking up against unlawful acts may be able to file a lawsuit against their former employer.
False Claims Act Whistleblower Employee Protections
If an employer has a duty to make claims to a federal agency, and that employer falsifies a claim, the government may launch an investigation and sue the employer. Any employee who assists the government in their investigation or suit in any way, for instances, by testifying for the government, is generally protected under the False Claims Act from being fired for that participation. If an employee decides to sue an employer for retaliatory termination under the False Claims Act, the employee must show that:
- They were acting in a manner protected under the False Claims Act
- The employer had knowledge that the employee was acting to assist the government in an investigation or lawsuit against the company
- The employee's termination was in retaliation for protected activities
A whistleblower that was wrongfully terminated by their employer could be entitled to:
- Reinstatement with seniority
- Back pay with interest
- Special damages sustained as a result of discriminatory conduct
- Attorney's fees and costs
Are There Other Whistleblower Laws?
There are copious federal and state laws designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliatory termination and other illegal treatment by their employer. Many of these laws do not provide for a whistleblower to bring an immediate lawsuit wrongfully terminated against an employer. Rather, the complaint is usually pursued administratively. This means the employee must first file with OSHA or the EEOC. If the problem still cannot be resolved, an administrative judge may be appointed.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
Proving that you were terminated for being a whistleblower can be very difficult, and depending on the type of employment, may involve serious litigation. For example, the First Amendment does not always protect statements made by government employees during the scope of their employment. Therefore, while there are many kinds of whistleblower laws, and each can vary widely in terms of the procedures taken to resolve the dispute. A labor lawyer can advise you of your rights, and of what action you can take next. It is also important to contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible, because these laws usually allow only a very short time - sometimes as short as 30 days - to file a complaint.
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Last Modified: 07-08-2014 10:16 AM PDT
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