What are Whistleblower Laws?
Whistleblower laws include a number of state and federal laws which provide certain protections and rights to whistleblowers. A whistleblower is an individual, often an employee, who reports illegal activities that are being carried out by their employer and possibly co-workers to an outside agency or to the government.
Whistleblower laws grant an employee the right to become a whistleblower. These laws also protect an employee from potential retaliatory acts of their employer.
For example, an employer is prohibited from retaliate against an employee for reporting an illegal act, or blowing the whistle by taking actions such as:
- Terminating the employee;
- Denying the employee benefits; or
- Demoting the employee.
If an employer takes any of these actions against a whistleblowing employee, the employee can sue the employer for retaliatory discharge.
There are several important federal whistleblower laws, which include:
- The Whistleblower Protection Act;
- The False Claims Act;
- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002;
- The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002, called the No-Fear Act; and
- The Military Whistleblower Protection Act; and
- The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.
A whistleblower employee “blows the whistle” on their employer by reporting their illegal or unethical behavior to the appropriate authority or commission, which is typically a law enforcement agency. There are several common examples of why whistleblowing occurs, including:
- The employer is violating public health laws and those actions lead to illness or death;
- The employer is violating workplace safety laws;
- The employer violated or is violating hiring and firing laws;
- The employer is discriminating against a protected class or activity;
- Mismanagement of funds; or
- Abuse of authority.
For example, The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA) strengthened the protections provided to federal employees in the Whistleblower Protection Act. The WPEA protects employees who disclose evidence of:
- Fraud; or
Under the WPA, a federal employee was not eligible for whistleblower protections if the employee:
- Was not the first individual who discloses the misconduct;
- Made a disclosure to a coworker;
- Made a disclosure to a supervisor;
- Disclosed the consequences of a policy decision; or
- Blew the whistle while they were carrying out job duties.
The WPEA does the following:
- Overhauls the WPA;
- Closes administrative loopholes in the WPA;
- Terminates the Federal Circuit Court’s monopoly on appeals; and
- Does not remove any rights and provides additional protections.
It is important to be aware that, although a whistleblower is protected by whistleblowing laws, they may still be fired from their job for reasons that are not related to their whistleblowing actions. For example, if a whistleblower also has a history of absences or tardiness, their employer may legally terminate their employment without violating any whistleblower laws.
If you want to learn more about your protections and rights as a whistleblower, you should consult with a local whistleblower attorney. In some cases, hiring a whistleblower attorney prior to reporting your employer may have advantages.
One advantage may be not having to disclose your identity to file a claim. Another advantage may be persuading a government agency to join a matter on your behalf.
It is important to note that you will typically not be able to file a lawsuit immediately after your employer retaliates against you. You will likely be required to submit your claim to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prior to being allowed to file a civil lawsuit in a federal court.
OSHA is a federal agency which hears cases regarding discrimination and other types of employer misconduct. A case must be formally filed with OSHA within 180 days after an employee learns of the retaliation.
The typical steps for employee relief include:
- Checking with their employer to determine if any remedies are available. Employers are required by law to have reporting procedures;
- If an agreement cannot be reached internally, file a claim with OSHA;
- If OSHA cannot resolve the issue, the employee may be able to file a civil lawsuit.
In the event that your employer does retaliate against you for being a whistleblower, you may be able to recover lost expenses such as back pay. In some cases, you may be reinstated to your former position.
What Does a Whistleblower Attorney Do?
Whistleblower law is a complex area of law. Cases that are brought under whistleblower statutes require extensive knowledge of whistleblower regulations, the various procedures which are associated with separate types of whistleblower issues, and the rights and protections which whistleblowers have based on the facts of their specific case.
Because of these issues, it is in the best interests of a whistleblower to hire a whistleblower attorney who is employed by a law firm that specializes in whistleblower cases. An attorney at a whistleblower law firm is specifically trained to handle an array of whistleblower legal issues, which may include state false claims act lawsuits and federal qui tam cases.
A whistleblower attorney will be able to identify what law or laws your issue falls under, and what type of evidence or information will be required for your case. They are best equipped to convince the government to become involved in your case early on in the process. If the government or other outside agency declines to join in your lawsuit, your whistleblower attorney may help you file a private action instead.
A whistleblower law firm is particularly useful in these types of situations. This is because the law firm will be responsible for covering the high costs of a private whistleblower lawsuit until the case is resolved, which may include:
- Filing fees;
- Hiring expert witnesses;
- Investigating expenses; and
- Other case related expenses.
A whistleblower attorney may potentially help shield a client’s identity. This may protect an employee from retaliation. In addition, a whistleblower attorney may also be able to assist a client in recovering whistleblower rewards and in requesting that their case be sealed, or not available to the public.
Can a Person Be Retaliated Against for Being a Whistleblower?
As previously discussed, an employer that retaliates against an employee for being a whistleblower may be subject to an administrative investigation and possible a retaliation lawsuit. If an administrative investigation produces unsatisfactory results, the whistleblower will then be able to sue their employer.
A whistleblower who brings a successful retaliation lawsuit against their employer may potentially be able to recover several remedies, which may include:
- Monetary damages awards;
- Being reinstated to their original role in the company; and
- Other benefits which an employee is owed under their employment agreement.
In certain cases, a whistleblower may be able to recover:
- Special damages;
- Attorney’s fees; and
- Court costs which are associated with the retaliation lawsuit.
A court may order an employer or a business to change their company policies in order to ensure that this conduct does not occur again in the future.
How Can a Whistleblower Lawyer Protect My Anonymity and Rights?
It can be very difficult for a plaintiff to prevail in their whistleblower lawsuit. This is because a plaintiff will be required to submit actual proof that they were wrongfully terminated.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated due to blowing the whistle on your employer, you should hire a whistleblower lawyer as soon as possible. This will help increase your chances of prevailing in your case and recovering monetary damages.
An experienced whistleblower attorney can help you navigate the necessary procedures which are required to file a whistleblower lawsuit. Your attorney can also assist you with:
- Gathering evidence;
- Building your case; and
- Representing you during court proceedings.
In some cases, as noted above, your whistleblower attorney may also be able to help you remain anonymous and protect your legal rights. For example, there are some regulations which permit a whistleblower to report their employer anonymously.
Therefore, if you consult a whistleblower attorney prior to submitting a claim to an outside agency or speaking with an internal department at your job, your attorney will be able to help report your employer’s actions to the agency on your behalf.
Your whistleblower attorney can also advise you regarding when you will not be able to report your employer anonymously, what other avenues of legal recourse may be available, and advise you regarding the potential outcome of all of the options.