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Filing whistleblower complaints with federal agencies

Oakland County employees sometimes hesitate to file legitimate complaints with employers out of fear of reprisal. Some Michigan workers may not be aware laws protect whistleblowers who report employer misconduct and unsafe working conditions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is one of numerous agencies that enforce federal whistleblower statutes, forbidding discrimination and retaliatory measures against workers. Michigan employers can fire workers at-will -- the power to terminate employees even for non-specific causes. Despite all that leeway, companies still cannot violate state and federal employment laws to dismiss workers.

The agencies that handle at-work discrimination or retaliation complaints vary widely. An employment attorney can help you direct a complaint to the proper outside authorities. Workers under OSHA's umbrella of protection are afforded protections whether they complain to a union representative, a government agency or, in some cases, directly to an employer.

Employers may not retaliate or discriminate against employees who trigger an investigation into unsafe or illegal practices. Employees also are protected while helping agencies conduct workplace investigations and testifying at hearings or other proceedings.

Just finding the right path to file a complaint is complicated enough. On top of that, rules set time limits on how soon complaints must be filed following a retaliatory or discriminatory incident and how fast the government must respond. Again, an attorney may be your best resource for navigating this maze.

With OSHA complaints, a failure by the Secretary of Labor to decide a case within a timely manner can present an opportunity for an employee to file a civil suit. Through an OSHA investigation or a legal action, a worker may recover a job position lost through wrongful dismissal and compensation for back pay and other damages.

Local, state and federal employment laws may have similarities but certain laws take precedence over others. This is another subject you can address with an employment attorney.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, "Other Workplace Standards: Whistleblower and Retaliation Protections," accessed May. 15, 2015

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