To this day, Congress has not passed a comprehensive whistleblower protection law. Unlike other areas of employment law, such as federal laws prohibiting race, sex, or age discrimination, there is no uniform national law to provide understandable rules and procedures for blowing the whistle on your employer.
Instead, there are over fifty separate federal whistleblower protection or financial reward laws, with fifty unique definitions of protected activity, fifty different statutes of limitation, and fifty different procedures for filing claims. In addition, there are literally hundreds of state statutory and common law protections for whistleblowers.
You might assume having so many whistleblower protection laws would provide widespread coverage for whistleblowers across the workforce. But the laws are confusing, sometimes contradictory, and riddled with loopholes.
Deciding which law, you should report under is in many ways the single most important decision affecting the outcome of your case.
The law you report under will determine:
- whether your disclosures are legally protected,
- how much compensation you can receive if you win your case,
- whether you can qualify for a reward,
- whether you can file a claim confidentially or anonymously, and
- if your case will be heard by a jury of your peers or an appointed “administrative” official.
So how do you know which law can provide you with the highest level of protection? That depends on three factors: the work you do, what you are blowing the whistle on, and in what state you live.
Whistleblower protections are based on the specific issue you are reporting, for example the environment, government contracting, fraud against shareholders, defects in manufactured goods, etc. There are radical differences in the level of protection under each law and by state. If your industry is not covered by a federal law and your state has not recognized whistleblower rights, you are out of luck. The fact that your company may have broken the law or endangered someone’s life is not always enough to guarantee protection.
Over the decades, the advancements in whistleblower protections in the American workplace have been revolutionary. Every job has been impacted by the transformation. New obligations and responsibilities now govern every major workplace. Yet whistleblowers are still fired, managers are still ignorant about employee rights, and the public remains largely unaware of how whistleblowing has changed the face of American democracy, and how it can be further changed in the future.
The risks facing whistleblowers remain – even strong cases are hotly contested, costly, and hard to win. Ensuring you know your rights and obtaining legal counsel is your best chance at safely and effectively reporting fraud, waste, and abuse.
(Excerpts from The New Whistleblower’s Handbook).
- Get more tips on how to win your case with The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself.
- #GivingTuesday is a great time to show your support for whistleblowers. Donate $50+ and you’ll receive a complimentary copy of The New Whistleblower’s Handbook.