You shouldn't have to fear loss of your job or retaliation from your boss and co-workers for notifying authorities of illegal activity or safety hazards at your workplace. When you disclose this type of information about your employer, an activity known as "whistle-blowing," federal and state laws provide you with a lot of protection against employer retaliation.
The Law Often Protects Whistle-Blowing
The government protects you from retaliation at work if you report safety violations by your employer. For example, whistle-blower protection is available for reporting safety issues in the trucking, airline, and public transportation industries; the existence of asbestos in a school; unsafe cargo loaded on ships; and violations at nuclear power plants and pipeline facilities. You are also protected when reporting financial fraud committed by your employer, such as when a public corporation reports inaccurate financial results. If you are asked to testify in court or cooperate with a government investigation, the whistle-blower retaliation protections still apply.
Your Employer Cannot Retaliate Against You
Getting fired after you've blown the whistle on your employer is probably the worst type of retaliation you can experience. However, federal law also protects you against other forms of employer retaliation. Retaliation also includes intimidating threats by your employer, reassigning you to a different position, cutting your salary or hours, no longer allowing you to work overtime, or demoting you. If you experience even one of these forms of retaliation, your employer is breaking the law.
Multiple Government Agencies and Courts
Asserting your legal rights against a retaliatory employer requires the filing of various legal documents with federal and possibly state agencies. A complaint must be filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Depending on the type of violation you report, you may need to get it filed within 30 days of your employer's retaliation. Depending on which whistle-blower law you're seeking protection under, you might be able to file a private lawsuit against your employer.
The Law May Require Your Employer to Compensate You
If OSHA (or some other agency) concludes that your employer has retaliated against you for filing a complaint, it has the authority to require that your employer reinstate you and compensate you for any lost wages. If you ultimately sue your employer in court, you can get reimbursed for hiring a lawyer and for the fees you pay to expert witnesses.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding workplace whistle-blowing and retaliation is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.