Protection for Whistleblowers
Whistleblowers are individuals who have stepped up to report illegal activity or violations of the public trust by their employer, such as environmental violations or illegal workplace safety practices. Not surprisingly, such reporting can be met with resistance -- or worse, retaliation -- by some employers. Laws have been developed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and to encourage future whistleblowers to speak out when they notice illegal activity. This section contains information and resources on whistleblower laws, what to do if you've been retaliated against for whistleblowing, and more. Educating yourself is an important step if you are considering “blowing the whistle” on your employer.
What is a Whistleblower?
To "blow the whistle" is to report a violation of law or the public trust committed by one's employer to your supervisor or the proper authorities. For example, an employee who alerts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to report the illegal dumping of toxic waste in a nearby creek is a whistleblower. As long as a whistleblower makes such claims in good faith -- not as a baseless attack on the company, in other words -- he or she is protected by all applicable whistleblower protection laws.
If you have "blown the whistle" on your employer and believe you are being treated in an adverse way (demotion, termination, etc.) as a result, you may want to contact an attorney for legal advice. Whistleblower claims typically must be filed within 90 to 120 days, depending on the specific law.
Federal Whistleblower Protections
A number of federal laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Disposal Act, include protections for workers who speak out about violations affecting the environment or the health of the workers. You may be able to file a retaliation claim if your employer has taken adverse action (such as termination) in response to a complaint you made about your employer's alleged violation of one of these laws. Other federal laws with whistleblower protections include the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act; Energy Reorganization Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Toxic Substance Control Act; and the Water Pollution Control Act.
To assert your rights under federal whistleblower law, you must file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You may call your local OSHA office or file your complaint online.
State Whistleblower Protections
While federal whistleblower laws specifically relate to certain laws, most states provide an additional layer of protection for those who speak out. These laws typically require the employee to make their report (either to a supervisor or an outside authority) in good faith, similar to federal law, in order to be covered. In other words, you will not be penalized if the alleged violation turns out not to have occurred -- as long as you had a very good reason to suspect the violation.
Employees who refuse to participate in the alleged violation, or who help with the official investigation, also are protected by most state (and federal) whistleblower protections.
The majority of states have protections for whistleblowers working in the public sector, such as elected officials, police officers, and teachers. If City Hall is misusing public funds, for example, that would be considered a violation of the public trust and the person who reports it would be protected from retaliation by the government body. Many (but not all) states also have separate statutes that pertain to private sector employees.
If you believe you have been treated unfairly after blowing the whistle, you may have a valid claim. Click on a link below to learn more.