A Hanford Nuclear Reservation whistleblower has lost his job. Walter Tamosaitis worked for URS Corporation for over 40 years before he was laid off a few weeks ago. In 2010, Tamosaitis raised safety concerns and was subsequently demoted from the project he was managing. Despite the demotion and even though he filed a lawsuit over his demotion, he continued to work for URS until they fired him. Tamosaitis claims that his demotion and later lay-off was the result of his frequent safety concern claims. Furthermore, he is faced with yet another dilemma after his lay-off. He claims that URS Corporation is requiring him to sign a document that would release the company from all liability in order for him to receive his severance pay.
States and the federal government seek to encourage whistleblowers not only because it helps the various agencies investigate and regulated business activities, but because it protects employees and customers from harmful employer actions. However, whistleblowers frequently get a bad rap and occasionally suffer severe consequences like termination and loss of severance benefits. For this reason, the federal government has enacted laws to protect and sometimes reward whistleblowers. Some of the laws specifically address whistleblowers like OSHA, Dodd-Frank, and the False Claims Act. Other laws are more open anti-retaliation laws that prevent employers from retaliating through firings, demotions, or other coercive activities.
As we have noted before, Washington has a False Claims law which is directed at Medicaid fraud, as well as a labor law that prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers. New York is considering expanding its whistleblower reward laws, beyond False Claims, to address reporting on other issues like banking and finance violations. Generally, laws directed specifically at whistleblowers allow for potential money rewards and protection for the whistleblower, but most anit-retaliation provisions are solely for employee protection. If New York passes the new law it could lead the way for more states to do the same.
It does not matter whether it is a voluntary, involuntary or wrongful termination, severance pay can be critical to the terminated employee. Severance pay is usually a set dollar amount but can take different forms like stock and can be part of a larger package of benefits. It is important to note that not all employees are guaranteed or entitled to severance pay. Employers frequently link severance pay with non-disclosures or non-competition agreements in order to protect business secrets and competitiveness. Release of liability, however, is less common with severance packages and severance pay.
Walter Tamosaitis is entitled to severance pay and after working for the same company for over 40 years, it is very likely to be a considerable severance amount. Unfortunately, his severance pay has become contingent upon his signing a release of liability agreement. Now Tamosiatis must decide whether his retaliation claims that are on appeal are greater than that of his severance.
If you have questions about severance pay or believe you may be in a whistleblower position, contacting a Washington employment law attorney may be of assistance.