What Does It Mean to Blow the Whistle on Your Employer?
Enron, WorldCom, Madoff Securities – they’re all businesses that defrauded investors out of billions and destroyed the financial security of their employees and stockholders. And each one was brought down by inside whistleblowers, who reported the unlawful actions and forced their employers to disclose their illegal activities.
While corporate whistleblowers are often heroes, alerting the government about any violations in regards to accounting practices, public safety, or environmental law, they are often treated as traitors by their employers, enduring retaliation for following their moral compass. According to a 2011 Ethics Resource Center (ERC) survey, 22 percent of corporate whistleblowers were retaliated against by their employers – an increase of 46 percent from 2009.
How Are Whistleblowers Protected?
Whether you work for a publicly traded company, a government agency, or a financial institution, a number of federal whistleblower protection laws have been enacted to defend the rights of those who find themselves in this role.
- Clear Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and other environmental laws – These acts allow employees to report any violation that threatens the safety of our air, water, or land or an illegal action that releases toxic substances or waste into the environment.
- Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 – Protects employees who report hazards, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and unsanitary or unsafe conditions, that can threaten one’s health in the workplace.
- Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 – Protects federal whistleblowers who report government agency misconduct, including mismanagement, the waste of tax dollars, or any dangers to public health and safety.
- The Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 – The act improves the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to securities laws and provides protection for accounting practices whistleblowers.
- Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 – Protects employees who are retaliated against for disclosing information about unlawful conduct relating to a consumer financial product or service. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, whistleblowers may be entitled to a reward from the Securities Exchange Commission of up to 30 percent of funds recovered if there are monetary sanctions over $1 million.
These whistleblower laws defend an employee’s “protected activities,” outlining which actions an employee can take and which are protected against retaliation. Protected activities include calling law enforcement authorities, refusing to follow illegal orders, objecting to supervisors about violations, and associating with those who blow the whistle.
Although whistleblower protection laws are in place, retaliation still plagues those who believe in doing the right thing. Whistleblowers often face adverse employment actions, including termination, hostile workplaces, demotion, denial of employment benefits, reprimands, and other actions – all of which are illegal under federal law. Even worse, according to the ERC survey, 31 percent of whistleblowers who experienced retaliation endured physical harm to their bodies or property.
If you have blown the whistle on illegal practices in your workplace and have been punished by your employer for your actions, contact the whistleblower attorneys at Barrett & Farahany, LLP in Atlanta, Georgia. Our lawyers can help you gather evidence for your case, and if appropriate, file a lawsuit against your employer with the U.S. District Court.
The bottom line is, fear of retaliation shouldn’t stand in the way of doing what is right. By speaking up, you not only protect the public’s health and financial security, you encourage others to join you in the fight against a corporation’s illegal activities.