Whistleblowing is the act of reporting or disclosing wrongdoing in the workplace. If someone is committing fraud or acting dishonestly at your workplace, a whistleblower act may protect you if you report it.
Thank you to attorney, Bertha Burruezo of Burruezo & Burruezo, PLLC for significant contribution to this article.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
The United States has dozens of federal laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation by an employer, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (1964), the Occupational Safety & Health Act (1970), and the Whistleblower Protection Act (1989).
Depending on the employer’s size, whether the employer is private or public, and the industry of the employer, a variety of anti-retaliation laws could apply. If an employee is engaged in protected activities, whether reporting harassment in the workplace, filing a report with a government agency, or testifying on their behalf, there is likely a federal law that prohibits the employer from taking an adverse employment action against the employee. In addition to federal laws, many states have enacted additional protections for employees. Check out these resources to learn more about the federal anti-retaliation laws and the agencies that enforce them.
1. United States Department of Labor, Whistleblower Protections, https://www.whistleblowers.gov/
2. United States Department of Labor, Whistleblower Statues Summary Chart, https://www.whistleblowers.gov/whistleblower_acts-desk_reference
3. United States Department of Labor, Whistleblower Protections, https://www.dol.gov/general/topics/whistleblower
Depending on the violation, your protections and rights may vary. Your protections may also vary depending on who your employer is.
This OSHA summary chart may be a helpful guide to your protections in certain situations.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO?
If you have been retaliated against for whistleblowing you should report your matter promptly with the appropriate agency.
After being retaliated against, it can be challenging to focus on reporting the situation, but it is important you do. Each law that protects whistleblowers has specific requirements for the number of days a complaint must be filed – in some situations it’s as little as 30 days. If a complaint is not filed within the statutory requirement, an employee could be forfeiting their claim. That’s why it’s important to contact the relevant federal agency to discuss the requirements for filing a complaint as soon as possible.
Consider documenting the events. Whether you’re talking to an agency or an attorney, they will likely ask for a short description of the events that you believe were retaliatory and any injuries you may have suffered.
WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE TAKING ACTION?
There are numerous statutes with whistleblower protection provisions that can have complex interpretations and may be difficult to understand. These statutes are specific to different scenarios and provide the length of time you have to bring forward a complaint, your rights and where to report your complaint.
Consider speaking to an attorney. Each agency has different requirements for filing a complaint. An attorney will be able to help you file your complaint or provide you with the relevant information needed to contact an agency. This US Department of Labor page contains detailed information on different government agencies and where to file potential retaliation claims.