Whistleblower Rights: How Employees Are Protected When They Expose An Employer’s Illegal Actions
An employee who recognizes the illegal practices within a company and chooses to report it can face retaliation, termination, and other dangers. Since the government wants to encourage employees to report activities that go against the law, the government enacted whistleblower law. Common industries that face the whistleblower law includes financial and environmental industries. Reporting illegal activities of an employer often ensures a penalty. Employees fear the response of their employers against them.
Whistleblowers receive government protection in response to their report of illegal company activity. In fact, the law specifies that employers cannot discriminate against or terminate an employee for planning to make a report or having already made the report. However, at-will employers and public sector employers are governed by different rules.
Protections Offered by Whistleblower Law
The law prohibits employers from certain actions towards employees who have chosen to “blow the whistle” about an employer’s illegal actions. If an employer enacts these actions against an employee, they can face legal charges.
When an employee reports illegal actions, an employer cannot…
- Promise termination
- Threaten a change in compensation
- Alter work conditions or terms
- Change employment location or privileges
- Cut pay or hours
- Discriminate, harass, or suspend
If your employer has retaliated against you for filing a complaint against their illegal actions, consult a lawyer for your legal options.
What Businesses Are Liable to Whistleblower Law?
Almost all employers are subject to the Whistleblower Law. The most common types of businesses are privately owned and public sector. While Pennsylvania is an “at-will” state and employers are allowed to fire an employee at any time, the whistleblower law subjects employers to a new set of standards. The whistleblower law sets out to protect the rights of employees.
Companies who receive state funding, whether one dollar or many thousands, are subject to the whistleblower law. This category includes school districts, cities, townships, and counties. But private companies who accept funding from the state also would fall under the law as well. This is usually determined based on the idea that state funds are helping companies achieve a goal that benefits the public.
Public Policy Violation
Another exception to at-will employment when it comes to whistleblowing is the public policy exception. An employer who terminates an employee and at the same time violates a public policy could face a lawsuit from the employee. Pennsylvania courts analyze cases to determine whether or not a public policy was violated.
Protected Activities Protections
Pennsylvania also has parameters in place for determining when an employee has engaged in protected activities that resulted in employer retaliation. According to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, employees who dealt with discrimination, hazardous substances, minimum wage, state of emergency, or wage discrimination are protected from retaliation.
The federal government also outlines employee protections. But in some cases, employees might find protections in their private contract or collective bargaining agreement.
What Damages Are Available For A Whistleblower?
Every whistleblower case is different. However, if a whistleblower case includes a wrongful termination complaint as well, the employee might recover punitive damages for the wrongful termination along with the remedies provided under the whistleblower law. Remedies under the whistleblower law can include back wages, fringe benefits, seniority rights, attorney fees, reinstatement, and actual damages.
File a Whistleblower Complaint in Pennsylvania
Protected Activities by Pennsylvania Law
Pennsylvania offers certain employee rights to every worker within the state. Common law and statutory law protections are the standards that Pennsylvania courts measure situations against to determine if the employee receives protection. Whistleblower and retaliation complaints filed by employees often receive state government protections.
Common Law Protections
Pennsylvania protects employees who participate in the following activities:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Doing statutorily imposed duties
- Refusing to violate the law
- Filing for unemployment benefits
- Serving on a jury
- Testifying truthfully
Known whistleblower protections are included below. Employees who report issues in the below examples are protected from retaliation and termination.
Abuse of Older Adults – Reporting negligence or abuse of older adults
Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators – Filing a complaint about the safety of a commercial vehicle or violation of a safety rule
Construction Workers – Reporting the misclassification of employees or a violation of the Construction Workplace Misclassification Act
Discrimination – Opposing an unlawful employment practice based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, or disability
Hazardous Substances – Requesting an inspection or exercising a right under the Pennsylvania’s Worker and Community Right-to-Know Act
Healthcare – Refusing to work overtime in the healthcare industry
Minimum Wage – Testifying about unfair wages in a process under Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act
Minors – Asking not to work more than 44 hours in a week during school vacations
Public Employees – Reporting a violation of the Code of Ethics to the State Ethics Commission
Public Works Contractor – Filing a report about a violation of the Employment Verification Act
Smoke-Free Workplace – Requesting the right to a smoke-free workplace under the Clean Indoor Air Act
State of Emergency/Road Closings – Missing work due to closed roads
Wage Discrimination – Complaining about inequality in wages
File a Whistleblower Complaint
When you know that your situation warrants a complaint about the illegal activity of your employer, the general rule of thumb is that you must file a lawsuit within 180 days of the action. However, certain statutes set the timeline for different types of activities. For example, in the case of State of Emergency retaliation, the lawsuit should be filed within 90 days. Speaking with a lawyer about your situation will clarify the best legal steps.
If you have been asked to do something illegal at work, contact an employment lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.