One of the first rules of social etiquette that children learn is that no one likes a tattletale. Kids who feel no embarrassment about picking their noses in public and who whine when told to tie their shoes or eat their vegetables can see the big picture enough to disapprove when their peers complain about each other to adults. Employees who complain to authority figures about misconduct and unethical behavior at their place of employment have worse things to fear than simply that their peers will accuse them of being tattletales or snitches. Employees who speak out about misconduct at their places of employment are at risk of facing retaliation from their employers. Not only might an employee who speaks out about employer misconduct lose his job, but the employer might go out of their way to make it difficult for the employee to find a new job. As much as your employer might try to intimidate you, you have a legal right to report misconduct and illegal activity at your place of employment. The Houston whistleblower claims lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you if you have witnessed misconduct at your workplace and are wondering what to do next.
Reporting Misconduct at Your Workplace is a Protected Activity
Protected activities are those that, according to federal and state law, employers cannot cite as a reason for taking adverse action against an employee. The following are examples of adverse actions:
- Refusal to hire
- Withdrawal of a job offer
- Involuntary reassignment of work duties, work location, or schedule
- Unfairly negative performance reviews
- Excessive scrutiny by employers
- Placing an employee on probation
- Demotion or reduction in pay
- Denial of raises or promotions
- Termination of employment
Texas is an at-will employment state, which means that it is legal for employers to hire employees with or without an employment contract. In an at-will employment relationship, there is no predetermined end date to the employment relationship, and the employee may quit at any time and for any reason; with at-will employment, the law does not even require you to give notice before quitting your job. Your employer can fire you for any reason, or even for no reason at all, as long as the employer is not terminating the employment relationship in response to the employee engaging in a protected activity.
Some examples of protected activities involve the employee’s requests for grants of time from the employer or for the employer to assist the employee at the employer’s expense. For example, filing a workers’ compensation claim, requesting accommodations for a disability, or taking an unpaid leave of absence for medical or family caregiving reasons all count as protected activities. Other protected activities include reporting wrongdoing, misconduct, or crimes that the employee witnessed in the workplace to the relevant authorities inside or outside the organization. For example, you have the right to report safety violations in your workplace to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to report discrimination based on race or another protected characteristic to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or to report criminal activity by your coworkers or supervisors to law enforcement. In employment law, reports of employer misconduct are sometimes called whistleblower claims.
Is Reporting Employer Misconduct Worth the Risk?
When you engage in a whistleblower action, you are taking a risk. It is unlikely that everything will go back to normal at your workplace as if you had never spoken out, and the circumstances vary from one case to another as to how easy it will be for your employer to find out that you were the one who alerted the authorities about the wrongdoing in your workplace. The most immediate fear is employer retaliation. If the employer suspects that you are the one whose complaint caused your workplace to come under investigation, then your employer might create a hostile work environment by treating you rudely and disrespectfully or otherwise trying to make your time at work unpleasant. Your employer might even take a more definitive adverse action against you, such as by demoting you or firing you. Even worse, your employer might try to ruin your reputation throughout your industry to make it more difficult for you to find another job.
Perhaps the most dangerous type of whistleblower situation is when your reports lead to an investigation into criminal activity at your workplace. You might worry that you could be charged with a crime if you knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the crimes committed by others in your organization. You always have the right to plead the Fifth Amendment when being questioned in connection to a civil or criminal case rather than risk facing criminal charges or a criminal conviction by answering truthfully. If you are in the midst of a criminal investigation or think your whistleblower claim could lead to a criminal investigation, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer, an employment lawyer, or both.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help You With a Whistleblower Claim
The Houston employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP are experienced in representing employees in all different kinds of employer retaliation disputes, including those involving whistleblower claims. Your employment lawyer can help you identify the appropriate authority to notify based on the type of misconduct you have witnessed. Your lawyer can also help ensure that you have gathered clear evidence of the misconduct and that you are reporting it in a timely manner and following all the formal legal requirements. If your employer’s misconduct includes defrauding a federal agency, your employment lawyer can help you comply with the provisions of the False Claims Act and file a qui tam action.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Whistleblower Claims
Speaking out about misconduct at your workplace requires courage, but it is a legally protected activity. The Houston employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you file a whistleblower claim about employer misconduct. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Houston, Texas, to set up a consultation.