Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The FBI Director Isn't A Protected Whistleblower, But You May Be

Some of you have already seen my article in Vox, Why It's So Hard To Say No To Your Boss - Even If You're The Directof of the FBI. In that article, I mention that Mr. Comey isn't protected under whistleblower laws. I wanted to follow that up with hope for the rest of working Americans. Here are some laws that protect those of us who aren’t the Director of the FBI:

·       Federal employees: Most federal employees and applicants for federal jobs are protected against retaliation for any disclosure of information they reasonably believe shows any violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

·       Employees of publicly-traded corporations: Sarbanes-Oxley is probably the most famous whistleblower law. It protects employees of publicly-traded corporations from retaliation for reporting violations of SEC rules and federal laws regarding fraud against shareholders.

·       Employees of government contractors: The False Claims Act  enables a private citizen to file a lawsuit in on behalf of the U.S. Government for fraud by contractors and other businesses that use federal funds. If you win, you can get big bucks because you get a percentage of the recovery, but there are lots of loopholes so get good legal advice. This law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for attempting to report fraud against Medicare, Medicaid, FDA, GSA, HUD, USDA, U.S. Postal Service, NIH and the military, but not the IRS.

·       State Whistleblower Laws: Some states have whistleblower protection laws for most employees, government or private, and others offer whistleblower protection to government, but not private employees. Some states have no whistleblower protections. Senator Rubio’s home state of Florida, for example, has a whistleblower law that protects employees who object to or refuse to participate in illegal activities.

·       Laws With Built-In Protection: Some laws build in whistleblower protections for anyone who reports or objects to breaking them. Laws that have built-in protections against retaliation include federal and state anti-discrimination laws, Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage/overtime  laws, Occupational Safety & Health Act, Surface Transportation Assistance Act, Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, International Safety Container Act, Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act, Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, Federal Railroad Safety Act, National Transit Systems Security Act, Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and Affordable Care Act.

·       Concerted action to improve working conditions: The National Labor Relations Act protects most non-government, non-supervisory employees from being retaliated against if they get together to discuss or to try to improve the terms and conditions of their employment. This is one law that might actually help you, assuming you aren’t a supervisor, if you want to complain that your boss is a jerk, about bullying, or about other activity that isn’t illegal.

There are different deadlines for taking legal action under each of these laws, and some are pretty short, so don’t wait too long if you think you were retaliated against. Talk to an employee-side employment lawyer if you are in doubt about your rights.

I'd also add this: if your boss is asking you to break the law, it’s time to start looking for another job and get the heck out of there.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.