If I Reported My Employer, Am I Protected as a Whistleblower?
When an employee observes that their employer has done something terrible and perhaps even illegal, he or she may wonder whether it is worth it to report what happened. Many employees may remain silent when their employer has done something wrong, out of fear they will be retaliated against or even fired. Depending on the circumstances, an employee may be protected as a whistleblower under both state and federal law. However, each state may be different in how they define a whistleblower, and what specific actions are protected. Those who want to know more can consult with an attorney who is familiar with various employment and whistleblower state laws.
What Exactly is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is a worker who reports an individual or organization that has engaged in illicit, unhealthy, dangerous, discriminatory, or other behavior that is inappropriate for the workplace. When an employee witnesses something in the workplace either from their boss or coworker that does not feel right, they may contact a hotline to find out if what they saw should be officially reported.
How do Whistleblowers Officially Report Inappropriate Employer Activity?
In general, an employee can access an anonymous hotline to report any misconduct on behalf of an employee or superior that works at the organization. This report is then forwarded to the proper agency who may investigate the situation or incident more in-depth.
What are Ways that an Employer may Retaliate Against the Worker?
If an employer is suspicious that a certain employee reported the company, they may retaliate in more subtle or obvious ways. While an employee may feel tension between themselves and their employer, awkward feelings are not considered retaliation. Here are some examples of how an employer may seek revenge against a worker for whistleblowing:
- Refusing to provide the employee with a deserved reference
- Giving the employee an unjust negative reference or unfair yearly review
- Demoting the employee to a different department or enforcing a pay cut
- Changing the employee’s schedule intentionally, to days they know the employee cannot work due to other obligations
- Suspending the worker without pay
- Creating a work environment that is newly hostile
- An employee receives harassment from employer and/or coworkers
- Being fired from the company at least partly due to being a whistleblower
If I File a Lawsuit, What Kinds of Damages may I be Entitled to?
An employee that is considering filing a lawsuit against their employer for retaliation or wrongful termination for being a whistleblower, may want to meet with an employment litigation lawyer immediately. Some employees may simply accept their termination, out of worry that a legal battle will only make things worse. However, a worker may be entitled to financial restitution and the following damages:
- Emotional distress
- Difference in pay between old and new position after being demoted
- Compensation for newly developed financial hardships, which were caused as a result of the retaliation or termination