If you informed the authorities that your employer was engaging in an illicit or illegal activity, you have certain rights and protections. Although it is not uncommon for employers to attempt to retaliate against whistleblowers, whistleblower retaliation is an illegal employment practice in Colorado. Persons who have been retaliated against may be able to file a complaint or lawsuit for back pay, reinstatement, or other damages.
Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989
Although Colorado is an at-will employment state, there are many federal and state statutes that exist to protect whistleblowers. One of these statutes is the federal Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA,5 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq.). The WPA only protects employees who work for the federal government and report agency misconduct. If a federal employee files a complaint that they reasonably believe is grounded in an agency’s illegal practice, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, or practice that endangers public health, they are protected from retaliation by that agency.
Colorado Whistleblower Laws
At the state level, Colorado has two statutes that protect whistleblowers. One statute, Colorado Revised Statutes Section 24-50.5-103, protects public (state) employees, while the other statute, Colorado Revised Statutes Section 24-114-102, protects private sector employees.
For public employees, the statute provides that any employee who provides or discloses information regarding illegal policies or actions not in the public interest may not be retaliated against. This protection does not apply to:
- Employees who disclose information that they know to be false or who disclose information with reckless disregard for its truth;
- Employees who disclose information from public records which are closed to public inspection; or
- Employees who disclose other confidential information.
A public employee must file a written complaint within 30 days from the incident of retaliation, and may file a lawsuit only if the complaint is denied.
For private employees, the statute also prevents retaliation, with exceptions similar to those listed above for public employees. However, an important requirement is that the employee must make an effort to provide the information directly to their supervisor or other internal authority before disclosing it to an outside source.
Unlike the public sector statute, private employees may bring a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination or termination in violation of public policy without going through a formal complaint process.
Other Federal Laws that Protect Whistleblowers
There are many other federal laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Although the specific content of these laws varies from asbestos removal to pipeline safety and solid waste disposal, the laws offer similar protections and prohibit actions such as:
- Making threats;
- Reducing pay; or
- Reassignment to a less desirable position.
Most of these laws are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Colorado is a federal-OSHA state, which means that these laws cover only federal employees and private sector employees where the employer has more than 10 employees.
Contact an Experienced Retaliation Attorney
If you have been retaliated against because you have exposed your employer’s illegal act or unsafe employment practice, it is important to contact an employment lawyer to find out how whistleblower retaliation law can help you. Many of the laws discussed above have specific procedures and deadlines that must be followed, so it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. At HKM Employment Attorneys LLP, we have experience helping whistleblowers bring retaliation claims and lawsuits. We also represent employers who have been accused of retaliation.
If you are a victim of workplace retaliation, do not wait – contact HKM Employment Attorneys LLP online or call us at 303-991-3075 for a private consultation.