Workplace rules and regulations exist for various reasons, including protecting employees, to ensure fair business practices, and to create a uniform set of standards for everyone. When these rules are broken, the consequences can be serious. When an employee has notice that wrongdoing, such as accounting fraud or safety violations, has taken place, then the employee should consider whether to report what they see. The act of reporting wrongdoing is called “whistleblowing,” and laws exist to shield employees who engage in whistleblowing at work. Even so, employees who engage in whistleblowing may be subjected to adverse consequences, including harassment or termination. In these situations, an employment lawyer can help you access the protection of the law.
If an employee intends to raise a red flag, it’s crucial to examine the situation beforehand. An employment attorney can shine a light on the situation. However, an employee can also prepare by understanding the situation more clearly.
1. Know what constitutes wrongdoing and when to blow the whistle
Recognizing potentially unlawful or unethical conduct in the workplace is the first step to take before contacting an employment lawyer. When should the employee say something? Broadly speaking, whistleblowing receives protection when an employee raises concerns about violations of state or federal law; non-compliance with applicable government regulations; or unsafe working conditions. While we often read about corporate whistleblowers in the news, even a warehouse worker can raise concerns about the way his or her employer operates. Moreover, some employers have internal policies that require employees to report unlawful, unethical or fraudulent conduct at work.
What constitutes whistleblowing? The law will protect an employee who in good faith complains about conduct that the employee reasonable believes constitutes a violation of or noncompliance with a federal, state or local law or regulation. The reporting can be internal, such as to a supervisor or to human resources, or external, such as a government agency.
2. Document your actions and conversations thoroughly within the bounds of the law
When an employee intends to raise concerns about violations of the law or an unsafe environment, it’s often wise to create a record of those efforts. For example, the employee should consider documenting the issue that the employee intends to report and create evidence of the time and place it was brought to someone’s attention. The employee should not spread the information beyond those who need to know so was to allow the employer an opportunity to address the matter. At the same time, California is a state which requires two-party consent to recording conversations. In other words, an employee cannot secretly record conversations with a manager. If the employee intends to document evidence in audio form, the other party must consent to the recording. Also, an employee should not use or disclose an employer’s non-public or proprietary information.
3. Understand what constitutes harassment or retaliation
After the employee blows the whistle, ideally management takes corrective action. Unfortunately, sometimes employers attempt to “cover up” or ignore the situation, or to retaliate against the employee who complained about the wrongdoing. The most obvious form of retaliation occurs when an employer simply fires a whistleblower. At this point, an employment lawyer can speak with the employee about the possibility of a wrongful termination suit. However, retaliation and harassment can take more subtle forms as well. For example, a punitive action such as restricting job duties, cutting hours, or reducing pay could all constitute retaliation. Verbal abuse, creating a hostile work environment and even threats to fire the employee also may constitute retaliation.
If substantial changes in the employee’s job occur after questioning wrongdoing, then the employee may have a case for retaliation. Employers cannot reduce the employee’s pay or deny promotions based on the concerns the employee raised.
4. Don’t wait too long to call an employment lawyer
When an employee experiences retaliation because the employee blows the whistle, the clock starts ticking. Whistleblower laws have statutes of limitation baked in to prevent individuals from bringing potentially fraudulent claims against businesses long after the action occurred. It is usually a good idea to contact an attorney as soon as possible after an employee suffers retaliation.
An attorney can help the employee sort through all the facts and review any documents that the employee has regarding the situation.
What to do when you need an employment attorney
If you have blown the whistle on wrongdoing in the workplace and have suffered retaliation as a result, remember the law provides remedies for you. Understand your rights and how the information above can impact your situation. Then take steps towards putting things right by contacting an experienced employment lawyer. We’ve provided many employees like you with counsel in similar circumstances. Please call us at 1-415-551-0885 or use our online contact page to submit a message today.