Many laws provide federal whistleblower protection for people who report illegal activity.
Whistleblowers assume a lot of risk by coming forward. Lives can change overnight. While attempting to right something legally wrong, the whistleblower faces the possibility of retaliation by those who would prefer that things stay the way they are. That’s where the concept of federal whistleblower protection comes into the picture.
Are there federal protections for whistleblowers? What kinds of protections exist? If someone takes action against a whistleblower, what are the repercussions? Here are some answers to those questions.
Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act
The False Claim Act (FCA) is one that impacts whistleblowing and provides some degree of protection for those who come forward. It can be tempting to focus on potential compensation for revealing and cooperating in investigations related to illegal activity, there’s another side to consider.
The FCA imposes penalties and possibly jail time for those who seek to interfere with an investigation into fraud. Attempting to compromise a whistleblower with the use of intimidation or other means could be interference. In this scenario, the authorities would bring charges against the party attempting the intimidation. The result is protecting the investigation’s integrity while also protecting the whistleblower from threats.
The Provisions Found in OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program
One of the more comprehensive examples of whistleblower protection on a federal level lies within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Whistleblower protection programs. Some examples of the program provisions include:
- Preventing an employer from firing an employee who has filed a complaint. The clauses within the programs relate to the original complaint as well as any complaints about threats related to the continued employment.
- Transferring the employee to a position with less pay or otherwise taking actions to reduce the employee’s benefits. Sometimes used as a strategy to get the employee to resign, the protections from this type of activity help to ensure the whistleblower can continue to earn an equitable living.
- In the case of hourly employees, reducing the number of assigned hours per pay period. Again, this provision helps to ensure the whistleblower does not find oneself in a difficult financial position because of coming forward.
All told, there are more than 22 different laws related to various industries that protect whistleblowers. From employees in mining operations to health care facilities to manufacturing plants, one or more of those laws are likely to apply.
Timely filing of complaints is essential with each of those laws. Within the terms and conditions found in each law, there is a specific number of days in which to file. Some laws or acts allow only 30 days to file a complaint. Others allow as long as 180 days. An attorney who is familiar with the laws that apply can advise the client of the number of days left before a filing becomes impossible.
The Protection Applies to Private as Well as Public Company Employees
In times past, there was some difference of opinion about whether whistleblowing protections applied only to employees of public companies. The US Supreme Court settled the question in 2014 in the case of Lawson v. FMR LLC. The ruling was that current whistleblowing laws apply to employees working for private contractors and subcontractors of public companies as well as personnel in the employ of those public companies.
Protections for Employees of Governmental Agencies
Whistleblower protections are not limited to people who work for companies or non-profit organizations. They also extend to government employees. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 includes these protections.
As with laws protecting other types of employees, the WPA prevents a whistleblower from demotion or termination because of the decision to report the alleged illegal activity. It is not legal to reduce the pay of that employee for the duration of the investigation or any subsequent legal action taken. The employer cannot replace the employee during this period. Illness is the only exception. Even then, the employee may resume his or her position after the illness passes.
The Relationship between Federal and State Whistleblowing Laws
Some states have passed laws related to whistleblowing and protections extended to whistleblowers. New York is a good example. When there are state laws that apply to a given situation, those laws must be in harmony with federal laws. Whistleblower attorneys are aware of any state laws that exist. They also know how those state laws relate to federal laws, and which ones do have some bearing on the rights of the whistleblower.
Do you have evidence of fraud or illegal activity within an organization? Contact the skilled federal whistleblower protection attorneys at the Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.