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Warning: Whistleblowers Must be Handled with Care

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 6/4/2014
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Though dealing with a disgruntled employee can be hard, various anti-retaliation protections make it even harder when an employee’s complaints or conduct is protected by law. A 2013 Congressional Report identified 40 different federal whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws, including:

These laws generally prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected activity. Though specific definitions may vary depending upon the law in question, protected activities generally include:

  • filing a complaint or instituting a proceeding against an employer related to unlawful conduct
  • participating in a proceeding against an employer (ex. testifying)
  • assisting in an investigation involving an employer (ex. providing documents, answering questions)
  • refusing to participate in any activity, policy or practice that is reasonably believed to be unlawful
  • exercising any rights afforded by law

Whenever an employee engages in these kinds of protected activity, employers must be very careful to avoid committing unlawful retaliation. Contrary to what many believe, retaliation is not limited to firing an employee. Retaliation can include several other types of adverse actions, such as:

  • reducing pay or hours
  • blacklisting
  • demoting
  • denying overtime or promotion
  • disciplining
  • denying benefits
  • failing to hire or rehire
  • intimidating
  • making threats
  • reassigning affecting prospects for promotion

Though employees engaging in protected activity aren’t immune from experiencing an adverse employment action, employers must be sure any adverse action was not taken because of the protected activity.

If you would like to learn more about controlling employment-related liabilities, check out The Human Equation’s library of online courses or contact us.

The Human Equation prepares all risk management and insurance content with the professional guidance of Setnor Byer Insurance and Risk.

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