Whistleblowing involves the public disclosure of wrongdoing, usually by an employee. Retaliation by an employer is a key factor involved in whistleblowing, which is why a number of laws and statutes, both at the federal and state level, have been enacted to protect whistleblowers. Also, whistleblowing is considered valuable to the public interest as it can reveal information necessary for the punishment of crimes about which authorities or officials would otherwise remain unaware.
Laws Governing Whistleblowing Vary
Unites States law contains a wide variety of regulations and statutes which address whistleblowing. This mixed bag of legislation generally condemns retaliation from employers motivated by an employee reporting fraud, misconduct, safety violations, non-compliance or other unlawful behavior.
When an employee is discharged for whistleblowing, the issue of at-will employment arises. The at-will employment doctrine allows an employee to terminate employment for any reason at any time. It basically means that, absent an employment contract with provisions dictating otherwise, there are no specific durations of employment guaranteed in states which abide by the doctrine.
However, the employment at-will doctrine is not without exception. In fact, the doctrine contains public policy exceptions which include at-will whistleblowing employees. These public policy exceptions have been carved out by courts and legislations and vary from state to state in their application.
Twenty of the laws addressing whistle blowing are enforced and governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These include the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Clean Air Act, Section 402 of the Food Safety Modernization Act and Section 1558 of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). These laws cover employer retaliation in the form of a number of adverse personnel decisions including blacklisting, denying overtime and promotion, suspension and intimidation.
Whistleblowers Also Protected from Discrimination
Many of the laws concerning whistleblowing employees also prohibit discrimination as a result of a whistle blower’s act of reporting or highlighting information about an employer’s misconduct. For instance, the California False Claims Act prevents employers from making rules that would discriminate against an employee “because he or she has discloses information to the government.”
Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989
One of the main federal laws enacted to protect whistleblowing employees working within the federal government is the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The act contains specific provisions outlining matters that must be proven in order for a federal employee to bring a successful whistleblowing claim:
- The employee made a protected disclosure
- That he or she reasonably believed showed misconduct or violation of the law, rule or regulation
- Some form of retaliation occurred
- That was directly connected to the protected disclosure.
Shegerian & Associates Provides Reliable Assistance for Whistleblowers
Because whistleblower law can be complex and varied, the assistance of a competent team of attorneys well-versed in employment law is critical. Whether you are considering blowing the whistle and need reliable advice about the protection provided by law or your career has been adversely affected by whistleblowing activity, the attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are standing by to assist you with the legal expertise you need to successfully resolve your issue.