Whistleblowing is often an act of courage and a stand for integrity over self-interest. It is also an action fraught with risk, often from the very organization that the whistleblower has sought to hold accountable. But what happens when the employee who raised the alarm begins to experience coercion in the workplace?
Understanding the nature of coercion, the tactics employers might use and the legal protections available is crucial for whistleblowers. This knowledge is essential to ensuring they can stand their ground and not succumb to pressures that may seek to undermine their position.
Federal laws, such as the Whistleblower Protection Act, provide protections for employees who report illegal activities in their organizations. This includes protection from retaliation in any form, including coercion. The U.S. Department of Labor gives the following examples of illegal retaliatory actions:
- Sudden job termination
- Denying overtime
- Denying a promotion
- Reducing pay
- Reducing hours
Regardless of the tactic, the intent remains the same: to make the whistleblower’s work life so uncomfortable that they retract their claims or leave the organization.
Coercion after whistleblowing
Coercion may be subtler than other forms of retaliation, making it harder to recognize. Coercion in the workplace can take many forms. It may include unfair disciplinary actions, the denial of certain opportunities, changes in job duties or even attempts at intimidation. The key element is that, as with more obvious forms of retaliation, coercion is also retaliatory, undertaken to pressure the whistleblower into silence or compliance. If a whistleblower experiences coercion after disclosing illegal or unethical activities, they have the right to report this retaliation to federal agencies and seek redress.
Recognizing the signs of coercion and understanding the legal protections available are crucial in standing up against such tactics. Whistleblowers must continue to have the courage to speak out, bolstered by the knowledge that the law is on their side.