The Laws of Whistleblowing

whistleblowingWhen a southern California employee sees dubious behavior in their workplace and they want to do something about it, a Los Angeles employment attorney can advise them about their options. There are many factors about being a whistleblower that can create a lot of uncertainty for anyone.  What are the consequences of blowing a whistle?

What is a Whistleblower?

We hear the word used a lot, but what really is a whistleblower? They are workers who refuse to engage in illegal behaviors or activities on the job.  The misconduct that such a worker might report can belong to several different types of behavior.

  • Violations of laws, rules or regulations
  • Direct threats to the public interest
  • Health and safety violations
  • Corruption
  • Fraud

The whistleblower could report their observations and allegations internally within the organization, or externally to law enforcement agencies, to regulators, or to the media. The point is that they want to expose wrong-doing within their work environment. Illegal conduct left to exist within a work situation can only undermine the quality of the work and general productivity.

The term itself comes from sports where the referees make judgement calls of plays on the field. They blow the whistle to let the players know that an play has been fouled or illegally made. In the early 1970s, activist Ralph Nader applied it to those who speak up, because the usual terms of “informer” and “snitch” had such negative connotations. He wanted to encourage those who were inclined to expose wrong-doing to come forward.

Fears of Retaliation

Many whistleblowers encounter reprisals for taking action. The reprisals might come from members of the organization that the whistleblower is reporting, or from a related organization. These reasonable fears hold some people back from speaking up about wrong-doing they spot in the work place. The more that people are aware of the protections available to whistleblowers, the more they are likely to speak up when they can.

Areas of Protection

In the federal government, OSHA has a  Whistleblower Protection Program which enforces the provisions of over twenty different statutes that protect workers who choose to expose a whole range of possible violations.

  • Workplace health and safety issues
  • Transportation concerns, including airlines, commercial motor carriers, motor vehicle safety, public transportation agencies, railroads, maritime issues,
  • Consumer products
  • Environmental issues
  • Financial reforms and securities laws
  • Food safety
  • Health insurance reforms
  • Energy issues, including nuclear issues and pipelines

Under the various whistleblower protection laws, workers’ rights are covered securing participation in health and safety activities, reporting work-related injuries, illnesses or fatalities, or reporting violations of the statues.  The protection regulations are intended to shelter the whistleblower from retaliation by superiors and employers for their choice to step forward.

Taking Your Stand

If you find yourself trying to decide whether to come forward about activity in your workplace that you believe is hazardous or illegal, seek out the advice of an employment attorney. A lawyer who specializes in this area can inform you of what you need to do, how quickly you need to file any report, what aspects of your status are protected by the law. Do not feel that you have to face the situation alone.