What Does it Mean to be a Whistleblower?

By HGD Staff

Have you heard the term ‘whistleblower’ before? If so, you have likely heard stories in the news recently or seen movies about whistleblowers. The most simple definition of a whistleblower is someone who discovers unethical or illegal practices at their place of employment, refuses to take part in them, and informs the proper authorities of the actions. Whistleblowers are protected by federal law and cannot be retaliated against by their employers for blowing the whistle on unethical or illegal practices. Today, we will examine what it means to be a whistleblower so that you have a clear understanding and can protect your rights.

The Very First Whistleblower Law

The very first law to protect whistleblowers was signed in 1863. It is known as the False Claims Act, or the FCA. The purpose of the law was to report fraud that was occurring against the government in the time of the Civil War. Changes have been made to this law over the years, but it is still in effect today. When the law was first enacted, it encouraged private citizens to file lawsuits against others who were trying to defraud the federal government.

What Types of Activity can be Exposed?

Activity that defrauds the government is not the only type of activity that is protected by federal whistleblower laws. These laws cover just about any type of illegal activity. A large number of claims filed under the FCA usually center around health care fraud, claims against military contractors, and other spending programs operated by the government.

The Whistleblower Protection Act

The Whistleblower Protection Act went into effect in 1989 when Section 5 of the United States code was amended. This act helps to protect federal employees and applicants of federal jobs from retaliation if they disclose information they believe leads to any of the following:

  • A gross waste of government funds
  • A violation of a rule, a law or a regulation
  • An abuse of power or authority
  • Gross mismanagement
  • Specific danger to the safety of the public or public health

This law protects federal employees from being fired or demoted for blowing the whistle on any act mentioned above. It goes as far as protecting prospective federal employees from being denied employment with the government for doing the same.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA)

The WPEA was enacted into law in 2012 in an effort to strengthen the protections afforded federal employees who blow the whistle against the government or other entities for unethical or illegal practices.

Other Whistleblower Protection Laws

There are other federal laws on the books that provide whistleblowers with various protections. These laws include the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act. On top of these laws, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protects employees who blow the whistle on unsafe or dangerous practices on the job. Any employee who believes that he or she has been retaliated against for reporting a dangerous work environment should file a complaint with OSHA immediately.

How Employees are Protected

So, how are you protected under all of these various whistleblower laws? In the simplest of terms, the employee must have a good-faith belief that the employer is acting unethically or illegally. Even if it turns out that the employee’s claim is not true, the employee is still protected under whistleblower laws from retaliation for making the claim. Retaliation includes a reduction in pay, a reduction in hours, being fired, being harassed, and being demoted.

State Whistleblower Laws

There are 34 states in the country that have enacted their own whistleblower laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. State laws do not supercede federal laws, but add an extra layer of protection for people who blow the whistle on their employers for illegal or unethical practices. Many state whistleblower laws are designed to follow the federal laws in place, with just some minor additions that pertain to companies operating in said state.

Contact an Experienced Attorney for Legal Counsel Today

Did you blow the whistle on unethical or illegal practices by your employer? Are you worried that you will be retaliated against? Have you been demoted or lost your job because you blew the whistle on your employer or co-workers? Are you faced with a lawsuit by your former employer for being a whistleblower? If so, you need to speak to an experienced attorney for legal counsel. Contact the office of Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC to schedule a consultation. Call our office at (205) 301-6621 today.

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