From Mark Felt to Edward Snowden, brave people who’ve decided not to remain mute spectators to injustice have changed contemporary history. But, they’re often vilified, ostracized, and even threatened. Some are blacklisted for life and prevented from seeking career opportunities. In fact, a 2011 National Business Ethics Survey found that around 46% of US workers who suspected wrongdoings within their company, did not choose to respond fearing retaliation.
The law is clear – employers must not punish whistleblowers, or engage in practices that encourage whistleblower retaliation. By doing so, the employer not only risks a lawsuit by the whistleblower but may also face criminal prosecution. If you have engaged in whistleblowing in the past, or are planning to do so, here are a few important things to know:
- The terms of the Sarbanes –Oxley Act explicitly state that employees making a complaint about the employer not following or breaking federal laws relating to financial activities should not be punished – even when investigations do not reveal any wrongdoing.
- This protection is guaranteed even if the employee does not complain to the federal/state agency, but reports it to a superior in the office.
- The punishment for whistleblower retaliation is a hefty fine, along with imprisonment for up to 10 years.
- Similarly, employees complaining against violation of health codes, work hours, or minimal wages, are also entitled to protection.
- In addition to this, there are federal laws that protect whistleblowers within a particular industry, for examples, employees working with hazardous materials.
- Besides, federal law, various states also aim to protect whistleblowers. For example, some states allow employees to file lawsuits against employers who they believe have wrongly fired them for exercising a legal right, or complaining about the company’s policies.
Unlike what employers would like to believe, whistleblowing employees are not treacherous rats; rather, theirs is an ultimate act of loyalty. They are faithful to the company’s policies and code of ethics. Employers have to exercise great caution if an employee has filed a whistleblower complaint. You are required to investigate the complaint with an open mind and are advised to contact a whistleblower law firm immediately.