Whistleblower laws make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who:
- Report employers' violations of whistleblower laws to the proper authorities
- Refuse to engage in activities made unlawful by whistleblower laws
- Participate in legal proceedings under whistleblower laws
Retaliation provisions typically include protection from discharge and harassment, and allow victims to file lawsuits for damages.
For example, employees may file qui tam lawsuits against their employers on behalf of the Federal government without fear of retaliation, under the Federal False Claims Act. The FCA is among the landmark whistleblower laws.
It's also among the most effective whistleblower laws, likely because employees who sue their employers under the Act receive a fair share of monetary damages awarded to the Federal government.
Some states have enacted their own versions of the FCA. See a lawyer about suing on behalf of your government under the Federal FCA or a state-equivalent law.
There are several other Federal acts that are collectively called whistleblower laws, whistleblower protection laws or whistleblowing laws, even though their titles don't indicate such. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 is another example.
Discrimination and several other acts related to employment and labor also prohibit employer retaliation against employees who exercise their rights under the acts. See Labor Laws.
States may enact their own whistleblower laws, that include or expand the provisions in the Federal equivalents. Some states have enacted specific whistleblower laws that prohibit employer retaliation against employees who exercise their rights under the laws.
Other states have adopted common-law or public-policy exceptions to the Employment At Will Doctrine, that generally shield whistleblowers from retaliatory discharge for reporting alleged violations of any law, regulation, ordinance or public policy.
To be entitled to retaliation protection under specific whistleblower laws, whistleblowers typically must report alleged violations to the proper authorities, such as government or law-enforcement agencies, and not only within their companies.
But, whistleblowers might be generally protected by public policy, common law or other laws as indicated above, for reporting violations only within within their companies. For example, when employees report sexual harassment by following internal grievance procedures for such, they are protected from retaliation by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If employers retaliate despite that it's illegal, many whistleblower laws entitle whistleblowers to file charges against their employers with government agencies, file private lawsuits against their employers in court, or both. In either case, a statute of limitations likely applies, as short as only thirty days in some cases.
The statute of limitations typically starts on the day whistleblowers learn that their employers are going to retaliate, not necessarily on the date employers actually do. Plaintiff failure to comply with a statute of limitations is a common defense in cases of alleged, employer retaliation under whistleblower laws.
Consequently, don't delay contacting a government agency or a lawyer if your employer retaliates against you (or you learn that your employer is going to retaliate against you) in violation of a whistleblower law (or any other). A lawyer will guide you through the process and help you select the correct state or Federal agency, to increase your chances that the agency will act on your behalf or authorize you to file a private lawsuit.
It might be a good idea to ask an attorney up front, to help you to decide if you'd be better off filing a private lawsuit instead of a complaint with a government agency. That's because you might not be entitled to file a private lawsuit to seek better relief for the same incident, once you've received relief through a government agency.
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