What You Need to Know about Different States’ Whistleblower Laws Before Coming Forward
October 23rd, 2018 by Mike Bothwell
How do different states’ whistleblower laws differ from federal protection?
States’ whistleblower laws provide added protection for people, but they also come with their own set of eligibility requirements. Assumptions can spoil your case before it even begins. Working with a lawyer can help you navigate the complaint process the appropriate way to ensure you’re covered by whistleblower protections. You might also be able to share in any judgments or settlements arising from your complaint.
Which States Have Whistleblower Protection Laws?
The federal government has a few different laws protecting employees who come forward about bad practices in the world place. In some instance, these complaints fall under the False Claims Act. If the inappropriate behavior involves defrauding the government, the person reporting the fraud can file a lawsuit on behalf of the nation. Once the case is over, the reporter is eligible to up to 30 percent of judgment or settlement fees.
Other federal laws protect the rights of public employees. Generally, these laws prevent demotion, firing, industry blacklisting, unreasonable work changes, and harassment. The same is true for laws in certain states.
The following states do not have whistleblower protection laws:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
Some states extend whistleblower protection to public employees. Others, like California, extend those rights to everyone. However, in states without whistleblower protections, professional associations and company policies often provide them.
However, in order to be eligible for protection under laws or policies, complaints have to follow proper procedures.
What Benefits Are Available to Whistleblowers?
There are different types of whistleblower complaints, but the two most common are:
- Employees turning in a business for illegal or unethical behavior, and
- Individuals turning in a person or business for government-related fraud
Whistleblower protection for employees prevents on-the-job harassment, industry blacklisting, firing or demotion, and the assignment of unreasonable transfers or changes in duties. In some cases, whistleblowers are able to stay anonymous.
Take, for instance, the case of 15-year hospital staffer Donna D. Ladka, of White River Junction, New Hampshire. After complaining about a doctor’s inappropriate sexual behavior, the doctor stopped speaking with her and the hospital relegated Ladka to paperwork duties. Gifford Medical Center later fired Ladka, citing supposed patient privacy violations. The hospital opted to settle with Ladka out of court, and the doctor involved had to undergo ethics training.
When it comes to fraud cases, whistleblowers enjoy additional benefits. The False Claims Act gives people the right to sue on behalf of the U.S. government. If the case is successful and results in a judgment or settlement, the whistleblower receives up to a third of the payment.
People can opt out of both protections and financial benefits in the blink of an eye simply by complaining in the wrong way. It’s important to understand the state and federal laws relevant to your situation so you don’t give away your rights.
Even then, there are situations which might leave you at risk.
Whistleblowers Who Left Themselves Vulnerable
Employer concerns over employee social media posts have grown steadily with the rise of sites like Twitter and Facebook. So many people were being fired – and contesting – over criticisms of their companies, the National Labor Relations Board addressed the topic specifically.
While encouraging employers to judge instances on a case by case basis, the NLRB supported firings, demotions, and similar consequences when an employee shares damaging personal opinions online. If you’re posting a complaint held by a group of employees? You could be in the clear.
Unfortunately, by venting online you might be giving up other important rights. For instance, a government agency who sees your post could sue your company based on those complaints before you get the chance. Therefore, if they’re found guilty of defrauding the government, you wouldn’t have a claim to any portion of the judgment.
Social media is a wonderful way for consumers to make changes in the way their favorite companies do business. However, employees should stick with official procedures for logging complaints. Sometimes, these missteps are surprising.
Barbara Gonzales, former financial director for Killeen, Texas, found out how hard it can be to register your complaint to the proper authorities. In Texas, whistleblower protections extend only to employees who notify a police officer of crimes committed in the workplace. City and company policies often fail to acknowledge this process, encouraging people to file complaints in alternative ways that will leave them vulnerable.
Finally, while protections are available at the state and federal level, whistleblowers need help navigating the legal waters when it comes to stopping fraud and other crime. Click to find out more about state whistleblower laws by contacting Bothwell Law Group online.