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, October 15, 2010

When Is A Whistleblower Not a Whistleblower?

I get questions like this and they make me cringe:

I wrote a long letter to the CEO complaining about my boss’s incompetence and lack of ethics. I got fired. Can I sue?

Here's what I'd like to say, but am usually more polite:

Probably not. What on earth made you write a letter like that? No, you don’t get to write emails, memoranda, letters, articles, or Facebook entries attacking your boss or the company unless you want to be fired.

Ethical violations and incompetence are not things you can complain about and be a whistleblower. If the ethical violations are also legal violations, you may be a whistleblower. However, if your boss is ripping the company off or going off on her own and breaking the law, you’re still probably not a whistleblower.

To be a whistleblower, you probably have to object to or refuse to participate in an illegal practice or activity of the company. For instance, if you object to discrimination, mortgage fraud, Medicaid fraud, dumping of pollutants, something that is a violation of a law, government regulation or ordinance, that the company knows about and condones or allows, then you may be a whistleblower.

If you’re a whistleblower and the company fires you or demotes you, then you should contact an employment attorney about your rights.

If your boss is incompetent or unethical, put up with it quietly while you look for another job.

1 comment:

  1. Donna tries to have it both ways on whether reporting an employer's legal violation makes one a whistleblowers. "However, if your boss is ... breaking the law, you’re still probably not a whistleblower." I think any report of illegality should make an employee protected as a whistleblower. Unfortunately, the United States has an uneven patchwork of laws to protect whistleblowers. A health care worker complaining about improper cancellation of insurance is protected by the new health care law, but that same worker complaining about dangerously unsafe medical practices has no federal protection. I wish we could all join together and call for passage of a law that will finally protect all employees raising concerns about any illegality.
    Richard Renner
    Legal Director
    National Whistleblowers Center


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.