Legal protection for employees who report an employer's illegal activities

Upon being hired, an employee is often required to go through training. Some training courses relate to an employee's specific job responsibilities while others may pertain to company policies including business ethics and codes of conduct. Employees are expected to abide by certain codes of conduct to avoid any ethical and legal issues.

What happens, however, when it's an employee's supervisor or members of a leadership team that are violating certain legal and ethical codes of conduct? In cases where an employee discovers that an employer is engaging in illegal or unethical financial or business practices, he or she is likely to have many questions and concerns about how to proceed.

An employee who comes forward to report the illegal activities of an employer is commonly referred to as a whistleblower. Depending on the nature of the illegal or criminal activity in which an employer is engaged, an employee may be protected under one or several state and federal laws.

For example, in cases where an employer is violating environmental laws an employee would likely be protected under provisions of federal laws like the Clean Air act or Water Pollution Control Act. Employees who report the safety and health violations of an employer are afforded protections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In cases where an employer's actions related to financial dealings with the government, an employee would be protected under the False Claims Act. 

All laws that pertain to whistleblowers protect an employee from suffering acts of retaliation including firing, demotion, acts of intimidation or any other types of activities that may be considered retaliatory in nature. Individuals who have knowledge of and who plan to report an employer's illegal activities would be wise to retain legal counsel.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Protection for Whistleblowers," May 19, 2015

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