Whistleblowers

A whistleblower is an individual (usually an employee) who reports what the individual believes amounts to unlawful activity (like fraud, unsafe work conditions, or civil rights violations) or activity by the employer (like illegal waste dumping) that threatens the public health. A whistleblower lawyer may help protect whistleblowers. In addition to the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, there are a variety of federal laws that include whistleblower provisions to protect whistleblowers from employer retaliation. The New York State Labor Law also provides whistleblower protection. Under these provisions, if you disclose, threaten to disclose, testify in a hearing or refuse to participate in illegal activity of your employer, you may not be fired, suspended, demoted, have your pay docked or reduced, or otherwise have your employment negatively impacted because of your whistleblowing. You are protected even if your employer turns out not to have broken the law and a whistleblower lawyer will help ensure this.

Whistleblowers who prove retaliation in court may receive reinstatement, back pay and other damages. Whistleblowers who believe their employer is committing fraud against the government may also be entitled to file a lawsuit against their employer on behalf of themselves and the government. In these “qui tam” cases, the government may or may not intervene, and the whistleblower plaintiff may share in any recovery. If you believe your employer is engaged in serious fraud against the federal or state government, you should consult an experienced employment lawyer immediately.

How do I know if I have been retaliated against for my whistleblowing activities?

Retaliation stemming from whistleblowing activities can be very subtle.

  • You report your employer to officials for unlawfully dumping sewage into the street. Shortly afterward, you are fired.
  • You cooperate in an investigation into whether your employer unlawfully dumped sewage into the street and notice that little by little, your hours and responsibilities are reduced and opportunities for advancement are being taken away.
  • You have always received outstanding performance reviews. You reported a dangerous working condition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which your employer was ordered to fix. Your supervisor tells you that you are being demoted because you are not a team player.
  • You work for a public company and notice accounting irregularities; you report the irregularity to the SEC and cooperate in the agency’s investigation. You become the object of derision and criticism at work, and even begin receiving anonymous threats to your safety.

I think I am a victim of retaliation because of my whistleblowing activity:

  • Act quickly–you have a limited time to file a complaint.
  • Gather any documents relevant to your claim.
  • Consult an experienced employment layer.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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