A "whistleblower" is an employee who reports a violation of the law by their employer. The violation may be against another employee, as with a sexual harassment claim. It may also be a general violation, such as practices that break pollution laws.
Whistleblower protections come from several different sources. The federal government has laws protecting you from retaliation for filing a claim or reporting a violation. Many states have whistleblower protections as well. Most states also recognize a common-law claim against an employer who retaliates against an employee for reporting a violation.
Federal Law Protections for Whistleblowers
Five agencies under the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provide whistleblower protection, including anti-retaliation laws. Those agencies are the following:
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
- Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
- Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
- Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS)
You must meet two requirements to qualify for whistleblower protection. First, you must have a good-faith belief that your employer is breaking the law. Second, you must complain to your employer or the appropriate federal agency.
Whistleblower protections apply even if an investigation finds that your employer is complying with the law.
If you think your employer has retaliated against you for making a complaint, you must file a complaint with the governing agency. You must do so within thirty days of the retaliatory action.
State Law Protections for Whistleblowers
Most states have statutes protecting whistleblowers against discrimination or retaliation. Common law doctrines may also protect you.
State laws are generally like federal law. To qualify for whistleblower protection, you must have a good-faith belief that your employer is violating the law. You also must complain to your employer or a government agency. You must refuse to participate in the violation or assist in an official investigation as well.
You must show your good-faith belief through internal documentation. Evidence you gather through public information, such as an online search, is not enough. You must also show that reporting the violation is for the public good and not for your self-interest.
State laws providing whistleblower protection vary. Knowing what protections are available before you report a violation is in your best interest. That will help ensure you have protection against retaliation by your employer.
You should examine your employment contract if you have one. You may have a contractual obligation to take part in an internal whistleblowing system.
Your employer's policy handbook may also have information about misconduct and whistleblowing.
On our whistleblower law legal answers page, you can learn more about state-specific laws.
You should also be aware of provisions relating to confidentiality. It's a good idea to ensure that your complaint doesn't expose you to a lawsuit for disclosing confidential information.
Learn More About Whistleblower Protections by Speaking to a Lawyer
Whistleblower protection laws protect you if you report your company for breaking the law. Speak with an experienced employment lawyer if your employer is retaliating against you. An attorney can explain your options and protect your legal rights as a whistleblower.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified whistleblower law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.