Whistleblower & Sarbanes Oxley Claims
Employees who believe their employers are engaging in illegal conduct - for example, by endangering public safety, violating clean air or water laws, and in many states any illegal conduct - often fear that reporting the situation to the proper authority or refusing to take part in it will jeopardize their employment and benefits. Fortunately, many of the laws prohibiting specific conduct by businesses also make it illegal for the company to retaliate against an employee who "blows the whistle" on the violation. Many states additionally recognize a common-law claim against an employer who has taken action against an employee after he or she reported a violation of the law.
To be protected as a whistleblower, an employee generally must have a good-faith belief that the employer or employees are in some manner violating the law, and must either report that behavior internally or externally, refuse to participate in the behavior, or assist an official investigation of the illegal conduct.
Protections for whistleblowers can vary a great deal, however, depending on the specific illegal conduct of the employer, the manner in which the employee reported it, and the state in which the events took place. As such, if you believe you are being retaliated against for reporting or refusing to participate in illegal conduct, you should contact a knowledgeable employment attorney as soon as possible to discuss the particulars of your case. The attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP have years of experience standing up for whistleblower rights.
Also, please note: If you believe you were retaliated against after reporting a health or safety hazard at your workplace, you should contact the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) right away. Complaints of whistleblower retaliation must be submitted to OSHA for investigation within thirty days of the date the retaliation took place.
Some common areas of whistleblower protections include:
- Environmental Hazards. Employees who report violations of environmental protections- for example, if a company is illegally dumping toxic chemicals - are generally protected from retaliation. For example, the federal Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Toxic Substance Control Act, and Water Pollution Control Act all contain provisions protecting whistleblowers.
- Corporate Fraud. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002 after the scandals at Enron and Worldcom, specifically protects employees who report (even internally) fraud in publicly traded companies. Many states have protections for any internal complaints of wrongdoing.
- Violations in hospitals and nursing homes.
- Workplace Safety Violations. Reporting workplace safety hazards that may endanger employees - for example, the use of unsafe machinery on construction sites, insufficiently ventilated work spaces, a lack of protective gear, or otherwise hazardous conditions - is generally protected from retaliation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
- False Claim Act Retaliation. Federal Law protects employees retaliated against for internal or external reports of fraud on the federal government. Many states have similar laws.
- Union Intimidation. Employees are protected from intimidation or retaliation for attempting to organize a union or participating in union activities under the New Labor Relations Act of 1935.
- In some states, for instance New Jersey, the conduct you complain about does not have to have been illegal. The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act covers certain merely unethical acts as well.
Though they do not fall under the category of "whistleblower" protections, the laws protecting individual employees from mistreatment in the workplace, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act, also protect employees from retaliation for asserting their rights under those laws. For example, it is illegal to terminate an employee for reporting sexual harassment, or for challenging an employer's failure to pay overtime.