In the United States, legal protections vary according to the subject matter of the whistleblowing, and sometimes the state where the case arises. Depending on many factors, both can have varying results. New York Police Department.
Disclosure can have the effect of telling the crooks that the cops are coming after them — which could be a form of obstruction of justice. A few state laws provide a remedy only for discharges. Most anti-retaliation laws provide remedies for any discrimination or "adverse employment action. Discharges, of course, cost the victim money. So do demotions and denials of overtime, promotions, or benefits.
Formal discipline is generally accepted as an adverse employment action. Courts are inconsistent on whether they will allow a remedy for a bad evaluation, denial of a transfer, changes in hours or work location, hostile remarks, denial of parking privileges, and other changes that do not reduce a worker's paycheck. Some laws clearly prohibit any discrimination in employment.
While the legal rights of employees have increased, so has the sophistication of bosses who want to retaliate. Instead of discharging a whistleblower, they look for more subtle ways to apply pressure. Promotions or transfers may evaporate. Hostile remarks can make you feel unwelcome, like you are an outsider. Isolated incidents can come together to paint a picture that it is time to go. Can the employer convey the need to quit with measures that are safe enough to avoid legal action?
Across the country, bosses and workers are playing cat and mouse to find out. The courts have applied the same doctrines used in sexual harassment cases to protect workers who stand up for their rights.
When courts conclude that the employer was trying to get the worker to quit, or made working conditions intolerable, then they declare a "constructive discharge," and allow the victim full remedies after quitting. However, these doctrines are not yet specific enough to protect everyone who felt forced out. For more information on harassment and constructive discharge, see our site's harassment page. Causation can be proved either by direct evidence or by an inference.
Direct evidence is evidence that the employer was mad at the protected activity. If you or another witness saw a supervisor spout off about someone reporting a violation, that is direct evidence of the employer's "animus" against protected activity. Similarly, if the employer announces that whoever calls the government will be fired, or warns employees against reporting violations, that is direct evidence of retaliation.
A worker may have a strong case even without any direct evidence. In some cases, causation is obvious. The boss runs into the office yelling about the so- and-so who reported a violation of the law. Norma Rae raises her hand and announces that she made the call. The boss fires her on the spot. The timing and personal animus make the retaliation clear.
Everyone knows that it is illegal to fire workers just because they are black or female, or because they organized a union. When the employer knows that it is illegal to fire someone for a certain reason, they will usually try to cover it up. Still, advocates remain amazed at the cases where bosses put an illegal reason in writing, such as:. We had to fire him because he called the EPA on us.
She discussed our wage policies with co-workers. Unfortunately, whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws generally take on the same rights and remedies as the law relating to the underlying right they protect, which means that they can vary widely from one another.
Some laws, like the Fair Labor Standards Act, gave victims of retaliation direct access to courts to enforce their rights to reinstatement, back pay and other remedies. Other laws, like the Civil Rights Act of , and the new Sarbanes-Oxley Act of , require victims to file first with an agency, but then allow access to the courts if the agency does not resolve the complaint within six months.
Since each law with an employee protection is unique, victims of retaliation may face a patchwork of procedures and possibilities. Employees who have the confidence to speak up sometimes have opposed various kinds of unlawful activity. For example, a member of a union safety committee may engage in concerted union activity, oppose an environmental violation, and complain about unsafe working conditions -- all with the same phone call to one agency.
In some cases, the activist may have opposed various kinds of unlawful conduct in separate actions. When the employer finally snaps, it may be hard to tell which protected activity provoked the retaliation. In these situations, it is hard to tell which law will be applied, or which will provide the best remedy. The employer, when faced with a variety of charges, will argue that the victim made inconsistent claims and none of them have merit. Special attention, therefore, is required to make each complaint explain how the protected activity that provoked retaliation is protected by all of the laws asserted.
The analysis of which legal claim to pursue must start with a sincere attempt to understand why the employer retaliated. Did the decision maker state his or her reasons?
Has the employer stated in writing a reason that is illegal? Do the circumstances of timing, animosity, or a pattern reveal what the employer's true motives are? If your company has a progressive discipline policy, was it speeded up or ignored in your case? Have other employees been fired for whistleblowing or retaliatory reasons? If the clues point clearly to one particular unlawful reason, then it is usually best to pursue the remedies under the law that makes that reason unlawful.
Other considerations can include:. Some laws completely omit any protections for employees to help enforce those laws. Tragically, the laws governing our health care, food and drugs contain no employee protections. In some cases, courts have applied the laws against fraud, unsafe work conditions, or pollution to reach these situations, but some courageous whistleblowers still find that they have no legal relief.
Our work continues to improve these laws, so that they are closer to New Jersey's example. Each law that provides a remedy also sets a time limit to file a written complaint to start an enforcement action.
Lawyers call this time limit the "statute of limitations. This is typically a statement of the adverse action and the law claimed to be violated, like "I was fired because I complained about race discrimination.
Each law, however, sets different procedures for how and where the complaint is filed, whether it must be mailed or received by the deadline, and whether it can be amended or supplemented later. Union contracts may require filing a grievance in as little as three 3 days after each adverse action. State and local employees may have time limits as short as ten 10 days to enforce their civil service protections.
Federal environmental laws require that a written complaint be filed with OSHA within thirty 30 days of each adverse action. Federal employees complaining of EEO violations must make their first complaint to their agency's EEO officer within forty-five 45 days of each adverse action. Other laws have time limits at 90, , or days, or any number of years from 1 to 6.
So, to plan what action you will file, you need to consider the possible laws, and when the earliest deadline is. Sometimes it is good to take time to assess the case and the possible claims before applying for unemployment compensation. The application for unemployment compensation will usually ask for a statement of the reason for separation from employment. The stated reason should be consistent with the claims you will make later in court.
Before the deadline to file your action arrives, you will need to have a plan to prove that the other side broke the particular law under which you are making a claim. The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases.
Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.
Find an Employment Attorney. Workplace Fairness is a non-profit organization working to preserve and promote employee rights. This site provides comprehensive information about job rights and employment issues nationally and in all 50 states. Her letter became public five months after she wrote it and was fodder for national outrage against those heading Enron, along with its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.
In spite of the public and congressional scrutiny that followed the whistle-blowing, Watkins continued to work for Enron without being retaliated against. Whistleblowers are protected from employer retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Employers must allow investigations to occur without taking action against the reporting party. Understand the laws to ensure you are not subject to whistle-blowing, and follow legal protocol should someone report the company for infractions.
Kimberlee Leonard has been helping businesses for more than 17 years with business planning, team development and sales training. She lives in Hawaii with her son and dog. Skip to main content. Sherron Watkins Enron suffered one of the biggest corporate scandals in history thanks to the company's then-vice president, Sherron Watkins. Tip Whistleblowers are protected from employer retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Sarsbane-Oxley Act Rolling Stone: Person of the Week: Famous Examples of Whistleblowers. About the Author Kimberlee Leonard has been helping businesses for more than 17 years with business planning, team development and sales training.
Examples of Whistleblowing in Business.
OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, . A whistle-blower exposes any information or activity deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization. Employees complaining about illegal or unethical conduct can generate whistle. Jun 29, · Whistle-blowing covers many areas of business in every industry, including but not limited to internal discrimination, predatory sales practices and dangerous working conditions.