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How to Be a Whistleblower and Keep Your Job

Without the countless whistleblowers who stand up against wrongdoing, so many instances of corruption, waste, and fraud would go unnoticed and unpunished. Whistleblowers have brought people revelations about Enron, the NSA, toxic dumping, political corruption, and more. However, there are personal and professional risks to being a whistleblower. If you want to understand how to be a whistleblower and keep your job, you should know what these risks are as well as the protections available to you.

State and Federal Whistleblower Protection Laws

Over the years, as people have come to recognize the vital role whistleblowers play in society, more and more state and federal laws have been enacted to encourage and protect them.

For example, the False Claims Act allows you to bring legal action against those who defraud the government, and even awards you a percentage of the money recovered. Additionally, the law includes certain professional protections for these types of whistleblowers.

Individual states also have whistleblower protection laws. However, these laws vary greatly with regard to who can be considered a whistleblower, what types of protections are available, and the types of penalties for retaliating against a whistleblower.

Who Can Be Considered a Whistleblower?

Some states, like Massachusetts and Texas, only protect public employees from whistleblower retaliation. Similarly, the Whistleblower Protection Act only covers federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse within the federal government.

Additionally, some federal laws only cover whistleblowers who are reporting certain types of wrongdoing. For example, the Clean Air Act protects whistleblowers from workplace retaliation with regard to violations of the Clean Air Act. Other federal laws that protect whistleblowers based on the type of wrongdoing include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which covers securities fraud, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

What Types of Actions Are Protected?

Maybe you haven't filed a formal report of wrongdoing, but you've voiced your concerns to a supervisor, or helped someone else expose fraud. Will you be able to keep your job in those instances? Again, it depends on the law that applies to you.

Some laws require you to make an actual complaint to a government agency. Certain federal laws, like the Water Pollution Control Act, cover you for “filing, instituting, or testifying in proceedings." Others might protect you if your manager simply thought you were involved in a whistleblower action and retaliated against you for that reason.

On the other hand, some state whistleblower laws actually require you to report the unlawful activity to a supervisor first in order to be protected. As you can see, whistleblower laws vary significantly with regard to who and what types of actions are protected. For this reason, it's important to consult an experienced attorney before taking action.

What if My Employer Is Retaliating Against Me for Whistleblowing?

Although you might simply be wondering how to be a whistleblower and keep your job, it's important to note that most whistleblower laws prohibit other types of retaliation as well. These may include demotions, transfers, pay cuts, negative evaluations, or simple harassment. In some cases, the prohibited retaliation may even be unintentional.

Whether you're worried about losing your job or receiving a negative review, there are many whistleblower laws that may protect you and hold your employer accountable. The process for filing a retaliation claim will vary depending on the applicable law, but many private sector employees can file claims with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, while many federal employees can file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. An attorney can advise you on the applicable law's procedures as well as any filing deadlines.

How to Be a Whistleblower and Keep Your Job: Key Points to Consider

Although whistleblower laws and programs vary, there are some common points to keep in mind as you think about coming forward to expose wrongdoing.

  • Keep detailed documentation (including dates) of your actions at work: complaints and reports to supervisors, any retaliation you experience, etc.
  • If allowed, keep records of performance evaluations, disciplinary actions taken against you, attendance records, and work policies and procedures.
  • Gather evidence discretely and legally.
  • Make note of any differences between company policy and the way you are treated
  • Decide whether you want to remain anonymous and whether that's a feasible option given the information you have.
  • Discretely try to ascertain whether there are others aware of and upset about the wrongdoing; they may be able to serve as witnesses and additional whistleblowers.
  • Don't give your managers other reasons to justify disciplinary action against you.
  • Be mindful of time limits for filing retaliation claims.

Contact an Attorney to Learn About Your Rights and the Whistleblower Process

American society relies on the courage of those who speak up about wrongdoing. But supervisors don't always see it that way. There are protections available to many employees, but the application of those protections will depend on your particular circumstances. Contact a whistleblower attorney who can advise you on how to be a whistleblower and keep your job.

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