Protect Your Legal Rights and Get Compensation With Experienced Whistleblower Lawyers
Good people know what’s right and what’s wrong. But a corporation is not a person; it can’t have a conscience. Instead, a corporation must rely on its employees to act as its conscience. A corporation is only responsible to its stockholders to show a profit; after all, a corporation is not a charity. So, when an employee sees his or her corporate employer doing something wrong, either violating the law or harming others, that employee has a responsibility as a good citizen and neighbor to speak up. This role is so important to society that the law protects such a guardian of right and wrong from harm or retaliation, whether the employee works in government or the private sector. At Parker Waichman LLP, we work hard to defend whistleblowers’ rights and make sure that the laws protecting them are upheld.
What Is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is someone who exposes illegal, dangerous or unethical activity to public scrutiny. In 19th century America, a whistleblower was a regular person or law enforcement officer who used a whistle to warn the town of danger, whether it be a crime in progress or a riot. In this way, the people of the community could avoid injury to themselves and their property. Today, we’ve adopted that same term, “whistleblower,” to describe a courageous individual who warns others by reporting the illegal, dangerous or harmful actions of an employer. Such actions could hurt other people, harm the government or defraud others.
Just how important are whistleblowers to society? So important that the law allows whistleblowers to remain anonymous during most of the whistleblower litigation process. Whistleblowers also typically receive compensation, or a “reward,” for protecting the public.
Blowing the Whistle on Illegal Corporate Activities: A Courageous Act
Make no mistake: It takes courage to be the employee who blows the whistle on a company for its unethical or illegal maneuvers. Being caught doing something wrong can be costly to a corporation and a corporation’s job is to make money. In the corporate world, it may well be easier to silence whistleblowers by punishing them or threatening them with punishment before they speak out. Such punishment can include internal pressure from bosses, managers, executives, and other employees in order to prevent someone from “blowing the whistle.” That creates a hostile work environment, which can include reprimands, demotion, and perhaps even loss of benefits or firing. The mere threat of these actions is sometimes enough to have a chilling effect on the employee who knows the company is doing wrong, but believes they are powerless to intervene.
But some employees are willing to take the risk and “stick their necks out,” no matter what the consequence, to prevent their employer from causing potential injury or possible death; violating the law or not operating in the best interests of their shareholders. Top whistleblower attorneys can help whistleblowers find just compensation when they have suffered for doing what is right.
What Is Retaliation Under Whistleblower Laws?
Generally, retaliation is any unfair or damaging employment action taken as a result of an employee exercising their rights. Types of retaliation experienced when an employee exercises their rights may include:
- Demoting an employee
- Placing an employee on a “blacklist”
- Preventing advancement of the employee through overtime work or promotions
- Unwarranted employee discipline
- Denying benefits or access to accrued benefits like paid time off
- Refusing to hire or rehire after a layoff period
- Discharge from employment by firing or being laid off
- Exposure to hostilities in the workplace, including intimidation and threats of adverse consequences
- Reassignment to a position that could prevent or inhibit promotion or career advancement
- Denial of a raise
- Reducing pay or cutting hours
The adverse employment action need not be entirely based on the employee’s exercise of their rights to invoke whistleblower protections. Retaliation may be found when your employer takes a personnel action against you that is motivated, at least in part, by your exposure of their wrongdoing.
Retaliation for blowing the whistle on unlawful corporate or governmental practices is illegal. If your employer retaliated against you for calling out their illegal practices, Parker Waichman can help you fight back. Our whistleblower attorneys have vast experience representing employees who suffered adverse consequences for acting as the conscience of a corporation. Parker Waichman’s whistleblower attorneys are well-versed in the federal and state laws that protect whistleblowers and punish companies that take revenge against an employee for doing the right thing.
What Are Your Rights as a Whistleblower?
You have the right to raise the alarm about a corporate activity that might be unlawful. You also have the right to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) if you experience retaliation as a result of this action. OSHA has the authority to investigate retaliation. However, it’s important to note that some states have their own whistleblower protection laws and that other federal statutes contain whistleblower provisions that complement the protections afforded to employees by OSHA. Other specially appointed agencies, like the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General, also have whistleblower protection powers.
Whistleblower laws protect employees in situations when the employee reports illegal activity committed by the company to the appropriate authorities. The definition of “employee” under federal whistleblower rules is expansive, including not only current employees, but applicants and former employees as well.
For example, a federal agency or private-sector employer is prohibited from taking adverse employment action against an employee who refuses to engage in business practices that defraud the government. In other words, the employee has the right to not engage in criminal activity. The employer should not make the employee choose between violating the law and not receiving a paycheck. Whistleblower laws would protect that employee when reporting the abuse to law enforcement or another appropriate authority.
Another example of an employee whistleblower protection would be protection for an employee who reports harassment in the workplace. Harassment can take many forms, including sexual harassment, bullying, and mistreatment based upon sexual orientation, age or race. State and federal laws prohibit employers from punishing employees who exercise their rights to be free from harassment in the workplace. If this describes your situation, consult with a lawyer. For the whistleblower who has suffered from retaliation, legal help is the best path toward justice.
What Do You Have to Prove to Win a Whistleblower Claim?
Typically, whistleblower cases hinge on proving four things:
- The employee took an action consistent with their rights as a person, such as testifying in court, reporting a crime or reporting fraud, abuse or a safety violation.
- The employer knew or suspected that the employee undertook this action.
- The employee suffered some adverse employment consequence.
- The unfavorable personnel action was either wholly, or in part, due to the employee performing the protected activity.
How Do You Prove an Adverse Personnel Activity?
The legal requirements listed above must be satisfied by a preponderance of the credible evidence for the victim to be awarded damages. An adverse personnel activity can be difficult to prove or relatively simple depending on the facts and circumstances of the specific whistleblower claim.
The preponderance of evidence standard is a fairly low standard of proof. Satisfying it may be as easy as convincing a fact-finder, whether it be a judge, a jury or a merit rating board over a federal employee or equivalent state agency for a state employee, that the allegations are more likely true than not. Most often, the standard is that the plaintiff must prove the truth of the accusations with 51% certainty. By contrast, the standard of proof the government is required to meet for a defendant to be found guilty of a criminal offense is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of proof recognized in our system of law.
Proof of an adverse claim may take either or both of two forms: direct or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is a personal observation. For example, if a person watches a manager fire an employee, then that is direct evidence of the event occurring. Direct evidence is useful only when the person who is recounting the event is credible. Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, is best described by using the mailbox analogy. Suppose you check your mailbox on your way out the door to work and you see nothing inside. You do the same when you come home and find that there is a letter addressed to you in the mailbox. Based on your experience as a person living in the United States, you know that the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail. Therefore, you can reasonably conclude that your letter carrier delivered the letter to you while you were at work.
Both types of evidence are essential in a whistleblower suit. Direct evidence would come from the victim of the retaliation when they testify about what happened to them after they took a protected action. They could also have direct evidence that their employer took adverse action against them from another source, but that is unlikely: Employers usually know about whistleblower laws, and consequently, they will be more careful. If that is the case, then the victim must turn to circumstantial evidence to prove the employer’s intent in a whistleblower lawsuit. Circumstantial evidence of an adverse personnel action might be receiving a poor performance review shortly after you blow the whistle on a corporate practice, even though your work has not diminished and you have a track record of good reviews. With this type of evidence, you can show that your employer knew about your actions and then took steps to retaliate against you for them.
What Are the Remedies for a Violation of a Whistleblower’s Rights?
The remedies available to aggrieved employees depend on the individual statutes under which the employee seeks protection. Generally, a court or administrative agency will award back pay, incidental damages for things such as damage to your reputation and emotional distress, costs of litigation, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. Additionally, the court or agency can order your employer to reinstate you in the position you had before your employer took adverse action against you, as well as require any other injunctive relief that is necessary to protect the employee. Additionally, the court or agency can order the employer to restore health insurance, retirement plans, and seniority to pre-retaliatory levels or award a promotion if the facts of the case and justice so require. Furthermore, the fact-finder can order the offending company or agency to pay punitive damages.
Some statutes also provide specific monetary awards for whistleblowers. For instance, the Dodd-Frank Act contains a provision that encourages individuals to come forward and report violations of the law to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Under the Dodd-Frank Act, a whistleblower who comes forward on their own can receive between 10 and 30 percent of the total amount of damages collected by the SEC or other authorities for providing information about a violation of the law. Under the False Claims Act, the government can prosecute an action the name of the whistleblower against the employer. This is called a “qui tam” action, from the French “in the name of the King.” When the government wins its qui tam action, the whistleblower gets a reward in the form of a percentage of what the government recovers.
Laws That Contain Whistleblower Protections
A wide variety of whistleblowing laws are on the books nationwide, contained within numerous federal and state statutes. It’s impossible to list every law granting whistleblower protection to employees, but here are some of the major federal laws that include whistleblower protections:
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act
- Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
- Clean Air Act
- Environmental Response Act
- Consumer Financial Protection Act
- Consumer Product Safety Act
- Energy Reorganization Act
- Federal Railroad Safety Act
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act
- International Safe Container Act
- Motor Vehicle Safety Acts
- National Transit System Safety Act
- Occupational Safety and Health Act
- Pipeline Safety Improvement Act
- Safe Drinking Water Act
- Seaman’s Protection Act
- Section 402 of the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act
- Section 1558 of the Affordable Care Act
- Solid Waste Disposal Act
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act
- Toxic Substances Control Act
- Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act
- Title VII, which protects those who report sexual harassment
- Fair Labor Standards Act
- Civil Rights Act
- False Claims Act
- Whistleblower Protection Act
- Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act
The Statute of Limitations for Whistleblower Complaints to Federal Agencies
A statute of limitations protects potential defendants because the passage of time makes claims more difficult to defend: Witnesses and evidence can be lost, and if the witnesses can still be located, their memories can fade. Therefore, making someone defend against a legal claim after too much time has passed is unjust. For whistleblowers, this means that you will forever lose your opportunity to pursue a legal claim should you allow the statute of limitations to lapse. You must be acutely aware of the statute of limitations that governs your case, which is one reason to work with a knowledgeable whistleblower law firm.
Most of the statutes listed above specify the statute of limitations. Many have only a 30-day limit for legal claims, while others have 90- or 180-day limits. Some of the laws, like the Dodd-Frank Act, have a three-year statute of limitations, but it can be as long as six years in some situations.
To protect their right to pursue a legal claim, the victim must file a complaint with the agency in charge of investigating whistleblower violations before this time period runs out. The overwhelming majority of the statutes listed above fall within the jurisdiction of OSHA. Whistleblower claims involving securities and stocks should be filed with the Office of Special Counsel or the Merit Systems Protection Board. Complaints may be filed online or mailed to the proper agency; OSHA also allows you to walk into a regional office and make a verbal claim. Most allegations cannot be made anonymously. Once you file a claim with the appropriate agency, that agency will commence an investigation. The Department of Labor then will determine the remedy for you and get you back to work in the position you are entitled to.
However, if the agency fails to act within the specified time frame, which is typically 180 days, or the agency rules against you, then you can appeal to the United States district court that serves your jurisdiction. Additionally, if your employer fails to implement the remedy that the agency ordered, you may bring suit in federal court. Note that you cannot directly file a claim in federal court without first exhausting administrative avenues. If you do not follow the administrative rules, you could end up in violation of the statute of limitations and lose out on a claim forever.
How Can Whistleblower Lawyers Help You?
It’s in your best interest to have competent counsel assisting you because the interplay between state and federal laws in these cases can be very complicated. Filing a complaint with the right agency within the statute of limitations is essential to the viability of your claim, and a good whistleblower lawyer can file a timely claim on your behalf with any of these agencies. However, the first step toward protecting your claim is seeking competent counsel from skilled whistleblower attorneys without delay; it’s important to take action as soon as you discover a possible violation of any whistleblower act or suffer an adverse consequence at work.
Our whistleblower attorneys can also assist you with the necessary preparations before you speak with authorities about the illegal activities in which your employer is engaged. Parker Waichman’s whistleblower attorneys will help you with documenting what has transpired, advise you on how to handle it, guide you on what to say, and help you with the possible fallout. Additionally, Parker Waichman’s seasoned whistleblower attorneys will know where to look for evidence of wrongdoing committed by your employer and, most importantly, where to look for evidence that your employer is taking an adverse action against you because you sought to protect your rights as a conscientious employee.
Why Choose Parker Waichman to Help With Your Whistleblower Actions?
Our law firm has built a sterling reputation on decades of successful whistleblowing actions as well as personal injury cases of all kinds. But you don’t need to take our word for it. The legal community has spoken, honoring us with many distinctions:
- 8 (out of a perfect 10) rating by AVVO, a service that rates every attorney in the United States
- “AV Preeminent” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell, a company that has rated attorneys across the United States and the world for more than 100 years based on feedback from judges and peers
- Highest rating of “5 Dragons” based on peer review by Lawdragon
- Listing in Best Lawyers, determined by extensive peer review
Is There a Whistleblower Attorney Near Me?
Yes. Parker Waichman is a national whistleblower legal firm with offices in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, and we can provide an experienced whistleblower attorney near you.
Talk With One of Our Whistleblower Lawyers Today
Contact our qui tam law firm today to learn more about how we can protect your rights as an employee if you have blown the whistle on your employer’s unlawful practices. Our whistleblower lawyers aggressively pursue employers who take adverse employment action against conscientious employees, and we stand ready to assist you. Just contact us by filling out our online form or calling 1-800-YOUR-LAWYER (1-800-968-7529) if your employer has violated your rights. We’ll give you a free, no-obligation consultation to help you evaluate your next move and seek justice.