Whistleblowers play a crucial role in exposing illegal, unethical, or dangerous activities in the workplace.
Employees who report such misconduct to their employers, government agencies or the public should be aware of the protections that exist to safeguard them from potential retaliation.
Federal and state whistleblower laws
At the federal level, numerous laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting various types of misconduct. Some of these laws include the Whistleblower Protection Act, which applies to federal employees, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which protects employees of publicly-traded companies who report securities fraud, shareholder fraud or violations of federal securities laws. Many other industry-specific whistleblower protection laws exist, covering fields such as transportation, finance and the environment.
In addition to federal protections, many states have enacted their own whistleblower protection laws. These laws vary in scope and coverage but generally protect employees from getting fired or subjected to other adverse employment actions for reporting illegal or unethical activities by their employers.
Proving retaliation and seeking remedies
If a whistleblower believes they have experienced retaliation, they must prove that their employer took adverse action against them because of their protected activity. Evidence of retaliation can include a close temporal proximity between the whistleblowing and the adverse action, a sudden change in job performance evaluations or statements made by the employer indicating a retaliatory motive.
Whistleblowers who can prove retaliation may receive various remedies, depending on the specific laws that apply to their situation. These remedies can include reinstatement to their former position, back pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress and, in some cases, punitive damages. Additionally, some laws allow for the recovery of attorney’s fees and costs incurred in pursuing a retaliation claim.
It is essential for employees to understand their rights and the protections afforded to them to ensure they can report misconduct without fear of retaliation.