Generally, most employees do not take on a job with the expectation of becoming a whistleblower. Working for a company, there is a duty of service to provide your employer in exchange for a paycheck and benefits as laid out upon the terms of employment. This service goes hand in hand with the understanding that your employer will be doing their part to provide a safe and secure work environment. Thus, allowing you to do your job to the best of your ability. Unfortunately, as the number one whistleblower lawyer in the Los Angeles region, our team at Hershey Law sees otherwise all too often.
While you may not always be directly involved, sometimes lines are crossed by employers or fellow employees. These lines may include illegal actions, abuse, wrongdoings, or something that causes a risk to the public good. Even though you may not be involved, you, somehow, have become aware of the situation. When this happens, you have an obligation to disclose that information to the proper authorities. Even knowing about that obligation, many people are afraid to report their knowledge because they worry about the repercussions of what they feel amounts to tattling.
It’s not tattling. In fact, it’s called “whistleblowing.” Regardless of opinion, whistleblowing is so important that it is heavily protected. With entire branches of government devoted to helping you protect your rights and an experienced whistleblower lawyer by your side, you can have complete confidence in your decision to come forth.
The general definition of a whistleblower, per the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, for short), is someone who learns of an illegal or unethical action going on in their place of employment and, instead of looking the other way or participating in the activity, they report it to the proper authorities.
Whistleblowers are crucial in the government’s eyes by helping to reduce corruption and abusive authority, ensure that those involved in the wrongdoing are held accountable, and help prevent waste, fraud, and illegal use of resources. In some cases, whistleblowers can even save lives. Because of the importance of doing the right thing, it is ultimately extra critical that individuals are protected from retribution once their accusations have been brought to light.
Whistleblowers can be anyone from an employee or a contractor to a client. Once you know about an illegal or unethical act occurring, either because you witnessed it or someone has reported it to you, you have a responsibility to report that act.
Those in the position of whistleblowing often fear stepping forward because of the genuine threat of retaliation. Retaliation can come in many forms, such as:
To protect whistleblowers from these retaliatory acts, OSHA and other branches of the government created laws, like the Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC. As a whole, whistleblowers are protected from adverse actions, but each industry may have varying laws. When in doubt, consultation with an experienced whistleblower lawyer will provide you with the best advice and path to take.
For instance, if you work for a New York Stock Exchange-traded company, you would be protected by the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. Those who work in the food industry are protected by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
These protections fall under both federal and state statutes, with varying requirements and statutes of limitation for each. If you are filing a lawsuit against your employee as a whistleblower, your attorney needs to know which whistleblower protection acts you fall under.
Although any reporting of wrongdoing in a business qualifies as whistleblowing, there are three categories each report can fall into.
Most whistleblowing cases fall into either the category of “internal whistleblowing,” when the illegal or unethical act is reported to another person in the organization. Or “external whistleblowing,” when the act is reported to the proper outside authorities or the media.
There are also government whistleblowers. This group can be private-sector employees who have knowledge of misdeeds in the government. However, they may also be from a private company with internal knowledge of government wrongdoing and reports those activities.
Individuals working in the government have special protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Thus, if you are reporting government misdeeds, your whistleblower lawyer will be working under more stringent laws.
Like any legal case, each whistleblower case is different. Yours will depend on which category it falls under, but there are some standard components of almost all these types of cases.
In most whistleblower cases, a specific statutory or common law determines who is covered – in other words, which the plaintiff can be.
Usually, this is an employee, but other individuals can be covered. The defendant also must fall under these statutory or common laws and is usually an employer but can be another person that is covered. The plaintiff must have engaged in protected whistleblower activity. The defendant must have known that the plaintiff engaged in this activity. After this knowledge, the defendant retaliated against the employee due at least in part to the protected activity.
The next step in the case involves discrimination against the plaintiff. This occurs in compensation, privileges, or other employment terms or somehow suffered a wrong covered under state or federal law. Evidence must show that the plaintiff would not have been subject to that discrimination had they not acted as a whistleblower.
Each whistleblower complaint undergoes a series of steps or phases once a case is determined to have merit. And, of course, a whistleblower lawyer files a lawsuit. At this time, the government begins an investigation. If you have hired an attorney to present your case, they will likely be working with the government. This conjoinment involves assessing determination, reviewing data, and determining how to proceed.
To investigate, the government generally issues a “civil investigatory demand.” This allows them to obtain documents on the case and interview current and past employees. The government may also interview the defendant. In the second phase, the government makes a final determination whether it will pursue or decline the case. The defendant is then served with an official complaint if it moves forward.
Timing in the first and second phases depends on many factors. For instance, the complexity of the case, number of defendants, resources extended into the investigation, and the information received by all sides.
While you are going through the stressful process of doing the right thing, remember you are not wrong. You are taking the difficult but morally correct step by ensuring the people guilty of the illegal activity are held accountable.
Because of the importance of your actions, your rights must be protected. Working with attorneys who care, like those at Hershey Law, gives you peace of mind. Knowing you are being guided and cared for by experts who care about you as a person, brings confidence in your decision to come forth.
Contact our legal team at Hershey Injury Law today to schedule your free consultation. Let our team help protect your rights and stop workplace wrongdoing from continuing to occur.