When an employer is doing something illegal or unethical, it is not uncommon for employees to want to speak out and expose the employer’s actions either to the media or the authorities. Unfortunately, the first impulse of most employers is to fire the employee who blew the whistle. However, both federal and state laws work to protect whistleblowers from adverse employment consequences.
Before blowing the whistle (or if you blew the whistle and have been fired), you should contact an employment law attorney to discuss your options. Given that most whistleblower protections cover specific circumstances, it may be wise to consult with an attorney about the whistleblower action in question.
A Brief History of Whistleblower Laws
As discussed above, the first thing an employer will normally do when an employee discloses an employer’s improper activities is fire that employee. Historically, many people tended to value their jobs more than exposing an employer’s wrongdoing. As a result, the threat of termination caused a chilling effect that kept many employees quiet.
Missouri recognized this problem in 1985 when the Western District Court of Appeals decided the case of Boyle v. Vista Eyewear Inc. In that case, the court held that it was illegal for an employer to fire an employee for exposing an employer’s criminal misconduct to the authorities. Continuing this trend, the federal whistleblower protection act was passed in 1989 to protect federal employees. Now, various whistleblower protections exist with the hope that employees who witness wrongdoing in the workplace will feel safe in coming forward.
Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy Lawsuits
The Western District Court of Appeals Decision in Boyle v. Vista Eyewear Inc. created the tort cause of action of wrongful termination in violation of public policy. While there are currently four different applications of this doctrine, one of those applications focuses explicitly on whistleblower protections. An employee who was either fired or forced to resign because of reporting a violation of law or public policy (or who believed they were reporting a violation of law or public policy) may sue his or her former employer for damages.
The Federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989
The Federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects employees of the federal government who blow the whistle on their employer. The Whistleblower Protection Act’s provisions are broad and protect federal employees in Missouri and across the country who report illegal activity in the workplace. A federal agency violates the Act if the agency takes retaliatory action against an employee who blew the whistle on violations of the law, mismanagement of funds, or unsafe working conditions.
Employment Discrimination Retaliation Provisions
Various employment discrimination laws also have retaliation protection provisions that protect employees who blow the whistle on their employer’s’ workplace discrimination. Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA all contain anti-retaliation provisions that protect employees from reporting discrimination of various types including race, sex, gender, age, and disability discrimination. Importantly, the anti-retaliation provisions of most employment discrimination laws protect both employees who file discrimination claims and any witnesses who assist in the filing of a claim.
St. Louis Whistleblower Lawyer Here to Help
If you have knowledge of illegal activity occurring within your place of employment, you should come forward and retain representation with HKM Employment Attorneys LLP. Our law firm has a track record of advocating for whistleblowers and protecting their right. For immediate assistance, do not hesitate to contact our law firm today.