If you suspect or witnessed wrongdoing in the workplace but fear your employer will retaliate if you come forward with information, you need to know that as a “whistleblower,” you have protection. Unfortunately, many people have experienced disciplinary action, including termination, because they notified their employer about a problem at work.
Instead of worrying about getting demoted, forced into a different position, having your pay cut, receiving a negative employee review, or even losing your job, you need to take action. As long as you came forward in good faith, meaning your intentions were honest, any disciplinary action taken against you would put your employer in hot water from a legal perspective.
Not only do you have protection from both the state and federal government, but in some circumstances, your employer could face criminal prosecution by taking retaliatory action against you. If you notified your employer about fraud, embezzlement, safety or health code violations, or some other kind of wrongdoing, you have every right to blow the whistle without fear of retaliation.
In 2002, the US Government passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, designed to prevent shareholder fraud as well as other financial wrongdoings within any publicly-traded company. However, there are certain aspects of this act that also pertain to whistleblowers. Along with this act, you have protection under other federal laws, including OSHA, whether filing a complaint internally or reporting to an outside agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
You also have protection if you were complaining about the company violating hour and wage laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and more. In fact, when participating as a witness in an internal investigation, state and federal laws are in place for your protection.
Whether you hear rumblings that you might be in trouble for coming forward, notice your employer’s demeanor toward you has changed, or you have already received disciplinary action, you need to speak with someone in your human resources department. At that point, the company’s mandate is to investigate your claim and follow up by taking the necessary steps to remedy the problem once confirmed.
If human resources does not take your complaint seriously or fails to investigate, you should contact someone with the EEOC. Although you can trust this agency to do the right thing, you should also speak with an attorney who specializes in this area of the law. The legal expert will determine if your company violated any laws and if so, recommend the appropriate action.
If your attorney suggests filing a lawsuit, you can make your case stronger by having evidence. Included are copies of prior employee reviews, letters of recommendation, emails, and anything else that you can find showing your work ethic and dedication to the company are exemplary. That way, you can prove unwarranted disciplinary action based on the fact that you blew the whistle on wrongdoing within the company.
Employers should treat their workers with the utmost respect and keep the lines of communication open. However, if you have a different experience, do not sit back and hope for the best. Instead, reach out to a reputable attorney.