Whistleblower Retaliation and the Law
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Aviana Cooper, Esq. | Last reviewed December 19, 2022
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Over the years, whistleblowers have exposed countless instances of wrongdoing. Most whistleblowers do not make front page news. But they provide a vital service. Their courage holds wrongdoers accountable for their misconduct, such as:
- Government organizations
Not all employers and government officials welcome the opportunity to confront these revelations. Some resort to retaliation against the whistleblower. But there are state and federal laws that protect whistleblowers. They also punish those who retaliate against them.
What Types of Actions Constitute Whistleblower Retaliation?
As a whistleblower, you may want to do more than rock the boat a little. Whistleblower retaliation can occur in many forms. For example:
- Pay cuts
- Negative evaluations
- Losing out on a promotion
- Losing your job
Luckily, some laws will protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
Federal Whistleblower Retaliation Laws
Exactly which laws may protect you will depend on the details of your situation. Some laws protect federal employee whistleblowers. Others cover individuals who blow the whistle on a particular type of wrongdoing. Securities fraud is an example. The following are some of the more significant federal whistleblower retaliation laws.
False Claims Act
The False Claims Act (FCA) encourages people to report their employers for fraud committed against the government. For example, you might report your employer for selling defective products to the government. You can also report your employer for double billing for services provided.
The FCA includes “qui tam" provisions. These provisions prohibit your employer from retaliating against you for filing suit under the FCA. If you can prove retaliation, you can get put back into your previous position. You could also win double the amount of back pay you would have received plus any special damages you sustained because of the retaliation.
Whistleblower Protection Act
Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) in 1989. The WPA improved protections for federal employees who report misconduct in the government. Under the law, government officials can't take adverse actions against you for blowing the whistle on misconduct. Examples include:
- Gross waste of funds
- Gross mismanagement
- Abuse of authority
- Illegal activity
You may report retaliation to the Office of Special Counsel. If their investigation finds that retaliation occurred, you may receive:
- Back pay and benefits
- Attorneys' fees
- Other costs
Federal officials may also be disciplined for retaliating against a whistleblower.
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 amends the WPA. It strengthens protections for federal employees who report government:
Congress passed the law because court decisions had narrowed employee rights under the WPA. The act added extra protections and expanded the class of persons protected by the WPA.
Federal Whistleblower Protection Statutes
Many laws that regulate particular activities contain whistleblower protections. These provisions protect people who report violations of those laws. For example, the Clean Air Act protects employees who report air emissions violations. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects employees who report securities fraud and similar misconduct. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces many whistleblower protection statutes.
You should keep in mind that you have a limited amount of time in which to file a retaliation claim. The exact types of remedies available depend on the individual statute.
State Whistleblower Retaliation Laws
Most states have whistleblower retaliation laws. These laws cover topics like the following:
- Workplace safety
- Wage and hour laws.
Some states only protect public employees from whistleblower retaliation. In some states, you must complain to a government agency before you qualify for whistleblower protection. Like the federal statutes, the remedies and consequences for whistleblower retaliation will vary.
The Future of Whistleblower Retaliation Law
Whistleblower protections are constantly changing as lawmakers introduce new legislation. For example, the Dodd-Frank Act expanded whistleblower protections included in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. House Bill H.R.2988 will further expand whistleblower protections for federal employees. The courts are also interpreting the application of existing law. The future of existing protections is uncertain as each new administration seeks its own reforms.
Don't Put Up With Whistleblower Retaliation
The decision to come forward and expose illegal or unethical behavior is a bold one. And while it's fortunate that we have so many anti-retaliation laws, it's difficult to know which ones apply to your case. And then, you need to know what you must prove and how long you have to file a claim. Contact an experienced whistleblower attorney in your area to get help with your retaliation claim.
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.