How many times have you kept silent instead of telling the truth because you were afraid of the consequences? Some people avoid revealing potentially damaging information because they fear that, if the secret gets out, someone important to them will get angry at them or a third party. Sometimes they fear that no one will believe them even if they tell the truth. Many times, the motivation to speak up about an uncomfortable truth is that not speaking up about it feels like lying. The situation is even more complicated and stressful in an employment setting. If you speak up, you risk losing your job, and the family members who depend on you for financial support will lose their financial stability. If you stay silent, you could be causing financial losses to clients, investors, or taxpayers, and you could be endangering the safety of your coworkers or customers, or even the general public. Reporting misconduct at your place of employment sounds simple when you read the websites of the relevant regulatory agencies, but deciding what to say and when to say it is always more difficult than it sounds. The Philadelphia whistleblower claims lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you file a whistleblower claim in a way that protects you as well as the victims of the wrongdoing you are reporting.
What is Employer Misconduct?
Employer misconduct is anything an employer does that violates the law or endangers the public. The following are some examples of employer misconduct:
- Not paying employees at least the state minimum wage (which is $7.25 per hour in Pennsylvania) and not giving them overtime pay for the eligible work hours
- Discriminating against employees of job applicants based on race, sex, or another protected characteristic
- Failing to recognize and correct dangerous conditions in the work environment or place of business that put employees or customers at risk of physical injury
- Falsifying records in order to avoid paying taxes or to conceal evidence of financial crimes
- Making false statements to defraud customers, investors, or the government
Not every incident of employer misconduct fits neatly into one of the above categories. If you know that something your employer is doing is unethical or illegal and you are not sure where to report it, the Philadelphia whistleblower claims lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can advise you.
The Law Protects Employees Who Tell the Truth
Employer retaliation is when an employer uses an adverse action to punish an employee for engaging in a protected activity, that is, an action that the employee has a legal right to do. Examples of adverse actions include demotion, negative performance evaluations, denial of promotions or raises, and termination of employment, among others. Creating a hostile environment, characterized by harassment and generally unpleasant behavior toward the targeted employee, also counts as employer retaliation when the employer does it in response to the employee engaging in a protected activity.
Filing a worker’s compensation claim, requesting accommodations for a documented disability, and requesting an unpaid leave of absence from work pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are protected activities. Reporting misconduct in your workplace to a regulatory body such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) is a protected activity, and so is reporting your employer’s illegal activities to law enforcement. Participating in an investigation by the aforementioned regulatory bodies or by the police into crimes or legal violations at your workplace is also a legally protected activity.
Tread Carefully When Filing a Whistleblower Claim
The law forbids employers from retaliating against employees who report misconduct in the workplace, but employers often try to retaliate anyway. Any employee who reports misconduct in the workplace is leaving himself or herself vulnerable to employer retaliation. To ensure that the effort you put into reporting misconduct brings about meaningful change, it is important to document the misconduct you plan to report clearly and accurately. Likewise, you must follow the deadlines set by the relevant authorities. For example, if you are planning to report a crime by decision-makers in your workplace to law enforcement, make sure that the statute of limitations has not already passed. Likewise, the deadline for filing a preliminary complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is 45 days after the most recent discriminatory action. Therefore, the sooner you contact a whistleblower claims lawyer after you witness the misconduct, the more likely your claim is to be successful.
The False Claims Act and Qui Tam Actions
Many different laws cover whistleblower actions; for example, employment discrimination laws are among the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The False Claims Act of 1863 applies specifically to employees who report that their employers have been defrauding federal agencies. The law originated during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in response to the problem of companies inflating the prices of goods they sold to the United States Army or intentionally selling the Army defective products. Today, most whistleblower actions filed pursuant to the False Claims Act come from employees of doctors’ offices, reporting false statements made by their employers when billing Medicare or Medicaid.
If the government decides to file a lawsuit against your employer based on your claim, you as a whistleblower can participate in the lawsuit as a plaintiff. This is called a qui tam action. “Qui tam” means “on behalf of himself,” and these legal actions are so-called because a whistleblower is suing the employer on behalf of himself and on behalf of the federal government. If the court orders the employer to pay a judgment, or if the case settles without going to trial, the whistleblower in a qui tam action is entitled to a percentage of the settlement or judgment. The whistleblower’s payment is meant as compensation for the retaliation that the court assumes the whistleblower suffered.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Whistleblower Claims
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you report misconduct at your place of employment. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.