Legal Protections for Whistleblowers

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A whistleblower is someone who complains about illegal activity or activity in violation of company policy at an employer. A whistleblower can be an employee, supplier, client, contractor, or anyone who may have insight into any illegal activity occurring at a business or organization. Those complaints are often voiced in public or reported to government or law enforcement agencies.

Getting Fired for Whistleblowing

Whistleblowers have often been fired by the company they work for.

Whistleblowers that do retain their jobs may face blacklisting, demotions, overtime exemptions, benefit denial, threats, reassignment, or a reduction in pay.

These consequences easily deter many employees from exposing unfair and illegal practices that they are exposed to in the workplace. However, there are some legal protections for whistleblowers imposed by the federal government to encourage employees to voice their concerns and better their work environments.

The Whistleblower Protection Act

The Whistleblower Protection Act provides legal protection for federal employees in addition to the protective laws created by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The two organizations focus on different illegal practices, and therefore protect whistleblowers in different ways.

OSHA Protections
Section 11(c) of the OSHA makes it unlawful for anyone to fire or retaliate against an employee for seeking or participating in an OSHA inspection and/or testifying in a proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.

OSHA mainly focuses on workplace and environmental safety, subterranean pipelines, nuclear energy, asbestos, cargo, airlines, financial reform, food and health safety, and public transportation.

SEC Protections
Alternatively, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is interested in securities law violations.

The commission states that over $1,000,000 in sanctions have been ordered, and the range of awards can vary between 10 - 30% of the total amount. 

Wrongful Termination Claims

In addition to these provisions, whistleblowers may be able to sue their employer for wrongful termination if they can prove their claims. These organizations protect and provide monetary compensation to whistleblowers for their involvement in the prosecution of business with illegal practices. 

Filing a Whistleblower Complaint

If you believe that your employer has fired or taken or other disciplinary action against you on account of the execution of your legal rights as an employee, you can contact either OSHA or the SEC to file a complaint.

Filing a complaint can be done in person at a local OSHA or SEC office or by simply sending in a written complaint via fax, email, or postal mail. While that the statute of limitations is still highly contested, judicial review has determined that claims cannot be submitted later than six months after the incident occurred. Here's information on how to file a whistleblower complaint.

Claims may still be used towards an investigation, but the whistleblower would not be eligible for compensation or protection without first filing a claim within that six month period.

Examples of Whistleblowing

  • Mary felt confident about contacting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when she was unfairly demoted because of the provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Program.
  • John was unable to receive compensation from OSHA for his tips because he waited too long to file his claim. 
  • Katie submitted a tip to the OEC anonymously online to protect herself from unfair termination.
  • Matthew, a client of a big securities firm, filed a claim about suspicious activity that he witnessed while in the company’s corporate headquarters.

Read More: 50+ Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Fired | How to Handle a Wrongful Termination