If you need to report on unsafe or illegal activities that your employer is engaging in, you may also wonder if there is any protection for you. You will need to know the laws regarding whistleblowers and employment and how to assert your rights in the event you are discriminated against.
When Whistleblowing is Protected
Most states have laws that protect persons who report legal violations. Even if a employee is employed at will (having no guarantee of continuing employment), they cannot be terminated due to reporting illegal or unsafe practices. This is true whether it is something that affects employees, or is harmful to the public and the environment.
Examples of protected whistleblowing wrongdoing include:
- Unfair payment practices that ignore wage laws,
- Unsafe working conditions, practices,
- Unsafe environmental practices that endanger the public,
- Purposely Inaccurate research results used to hide harmful effects of products or actions,
- Gross mismanagement of funds, and
- Abuse of power that causes financial or other harm to others.
Ways Whistleblowing can be Accomplished
You may refuse to engage in illegal activities, and/or you may report violations or wrongdoing to a supervisor, a hotline or an Inspector General. You may be called upon to testify in legal proceedings as a result. Another way you may get the word out about wrongdoing is to leak evidence of it to a media source.
When you become aware of wrongful activity, you would be wise to:
- Continue doing your job as calmly and faithfully as you can,
- Be discreet on who you talk to,
- Check your facts thoroughly and double-check them if possible.
Reporting Retaliation and Enduring Unlawful Repercussions
If you have reported something and/or refused to cooperate with wrongful activity, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate or to fire you. To do something about unfair treatment, you should keep a careful record of it, with dates and times of conversations and incidents. You should also collect or keep any evidence that could provide proof of mistreatment such as copies of memos and signed statements from others that are familiar with the problems.
You should document:
- Being offered a bribe to not report illegal activity,
- Being threatened,
- Being ostracized or consistently ignored,
- Being given dangerous or undesirable assignments on a regular basis,
- Being passed over for promotions,
- Any other instances of people being unfairly treated or fired for reporting violations,
- Being fired soon after the reporting, and/or
- Your employer failing to follow normal progressive discipline policies in your case.
To protect your rights and get legal advice on your specific situation, you should consult a workplace rights lawyer or general practice attorney as soon as possible.