Whistleblower Retaliation and the Law
Over the years, whistleblowers have exposed countless instances of wrongdoing, both great and small. And although most whistleblowers do not make front page news, they provide a vital service in holding individuals, corporations, and government organizations accountable for their misconduct. Unfortunately, not all employers and government officials welcome the opportunity to confront these revelations, and some resort to retaliation against the whistleblower. Thankfully, there are many state and federal laws designed to protect whistleblowers and punish those who retaliate against them.
What Types of Actions Constitute Whistleblower Retaliation?
As a whistleblower, you might be concerned about more than just rocking the boat a little. Whistleblower retaliation can occur in many forms including harassment, demotions, pay cuts, negative evaluations, losing out on a promotion, and even losing your job. Luckily, there are many laws designed to protect individuals from all types of whistleblower retaliation.
Federal Whistleblower Retaliation Laws
Exactly which laws may protect you will depend on the particulars of your situation. For example, some laws protect federal employee whistleblowers, while others cover individuals who blow the whistle on a particular type of wrongdoing, like securities fraud. The following are some of the more significant federal whistleblower retaliation laws:
False Claims Act
The False Claims Act (FCA) encourages individuals to report their employers for fraud committed against the government. For example, under the FCA, you might report your employer for selling the government defective products or double billing for services provided. The FCA includes “qui tam” provisions which prohibit employers from taking any action against you in retaliation for filing a suit under the FCA. If you can prove retaliation, you can be reinstated to your previous position and may be awarded double the amount of back pay you would have received, plus any special damages you sustained because of the retaliation.
Whistleblower Protection Act
The Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1989 to strengthen the rights of and improve protections for federal employee who report misconduct committed within the government. The law prohibits officials within government agencies from taking adverse personnel actions against you for blowing the whistle on misconduct such as gross waste of funds, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, or illegal activity. You may report retaliation to the Office of Special Counsel, and if their investigation finds that retaliation occurred, you may receive reinstatement, back pay and benefits, attorneys’ fees, and other costs. Federal officials may also be disciplined for retaliating against a whistleblower.
Federal Whistleblower Protection Statutes
Many laws that regulate certain activity contain whistleblower protection statutes to protect people who report violations of those laws. For example, the Clean Air Act protects employees who report violations regarding air emissions, while the Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects employees of certain companies who report securities fraud and similar misconduct. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces many of these whistleblower protection statutes, but you should keep in mind that you have a limited amount of time in which to file a retaliation claim. The exact types of remedies available depend on the individual statute.
State Whistleblower Retaliation Laws
In addition to these federal statutes, most states have their own whistleblower retaliation laws, which cover topics like discrimination, workplace safety, and wage and hour laws. Some states only protect public employees from whistleblower retaliation, and some require that you complain to a government agency before you can be considered a whistleblower at all. And like the federal statutes, the remedies and consequences for whistleblower retaliation will vary.
The Future of Whistleblower Retaliation Law
Whistleblower protections are constantly changing as lawmakers introduce new legislation and the courts interpret the application of existing law. For example, the Dodd-Frank Act expanded whistleblower protections included in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act bolstered the protections found in the original Whistleblower Protection Act. However, many people feel that whistleblower protections should be expanded to better include employees of intelligence agencies and federal contractors. Additionally, the future of existing protections is uncertain as each new administration seeks its own reforms.
Don’t Put Up with Whistleblower Retaliation
The decision to come forward and expose illegal or unethical behavior is a bold one. And while it’s fortunate that we have so many anti-retaliation laws, it’s difficult to know which ones apply to your case, what you need to prove, and how long you have to file a claim. Get help and peace of mind regarding your retaliation claim by contacting an experienced whistleblower attorney in your area.