Font size: bigger | smaller

Whistleblowers and Their Rights

This guide is for information only and is not legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to specific facts. This guide is based on general legal principles and does not address all possible claims, exceptions or conditions related to the subject matter discussed.

by Marilynn Mika Spencer

What is a whistleblower?

Whistleblowers are employees who report wrongdoing by the federal, state or local government, or by a private entity, when that wrongdoing harms the public. Usually, but not always, the wrongdoing will benefit the government or private entity that engages in the wrongdoing. The purpose of whistleblower protection laws is to allow employees to report, stop or testify about this kind of wrongdoing.

Examples

An employee of a city agency reports that the city is hiring unlicensed contractors to keep its budget low by. This has the potential to harm the public because the contractors are unqualified to bid on a job, and presumably less competent.

But a department store clerk who reports that a co-worker is stealing money from the cash register is not a whistleblower because the only one harmed is the employer.

However, if the department store clerk reports that a co-worker is switching prices so that customers are paying more for items and the employee is pocketing the difference, then the public is harmed.

Note the wrongdoing does not have to be related to money. It could be improper training, violations of health and safety laws, unlawful employment practices such as discrimination, false advertising, and much more.

Whistleblower laws

Many laws protect whistleblowers who engage in specific types of activity. For example, the same laws that protect employees from employment discrimination based on sex, race, disability, etc. also protect employees who blow the whistle on an employers’ prohibited discrimination. Another example is where an employee reports a health or safety violation; this kind of report is protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

If a law includes whistleblower protection, it will also include a method to enforce that protection, or the protection may be enforceable through a private attorneys general law. These laws may be state laws or federal.

Some of the federal laws are listed on the U.S. Department of Labor web site at http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/whistle.htm and include:

  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), 15 USC §2651
  • Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 USC § 7622
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 USC § 9610
  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), 15 USC § 2087
  • Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (ERA), 42 USC § 5851
  • Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 USC § 20109
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), 33 USC § 1367
  • International Safety Container Act (ISCA), 46 USC App. § 1506
  • National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA), 6 USC § 1142
  • Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSH Act), 29 USC § 660(c)
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA), 49 USC § 60129
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), 42 USC § 300j-9(i)
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), 18 USC § 1514A
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), 42 USC § 6971
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 USC § 31105
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 USC § 2622
  • Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21), 49 USC § 42121

To find out what state laws protect whistleblowers, visit the National Whistleblower Center’s web site: http://www.whistleblowers.org The National Whistleblower Center is a private law firm with a strong history of protecting whistleblowers. Its web site has a lot of helpful information about federal and state whistleblower laws. Information on state whistleblower laws can be found here: http://www.whistleblowers.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34 &Itemid=63

Enforcement

A serious problem of many whistleblower laws is that the time limit (statute of limitation) for an employee to file a complaint of retaliation is very, very short – sometimes as short as 30 days from the date of the employer’s retaliatory action.

Contact Us

Spencer Johnson McCammon LLP
2727 Camino del Rio South
Suite 140
San Diego, CA 92108
Phone: (619) 233-1313

Spencer Johnson McCammon Weekly

Spencer Johnson McCammon Weekly

Topic of the Week

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination can affect your job status, your working environment, your health benefits, and a host of other issues in the workplace. The law in this area is changing rapidly for the better. If you feel you might have been discriminat

Read more...

Blog of the Week

Why temporary layoffs may become permanent

Forty-two percent, or 11.6 million, of all jobs lost through April 25 due to Covid-19 will become permanent, according to the University of Chicago.

Thought for the Week

"We know LGBTQ people face higher rates of economic instability, higher poverty, lower rates of employment and higher incidence of pre-existing conditions. You can make a pretty reliable assumption that LGBTQ people are facing serious economic consequences from the pandemic. The idea that LGBTQ people could be more vulnerable simply because of who they are is unacceptable. It was already imperative that we enact these protections, and this crisis has laid bare how critical it is."

–harita Gruberg, director of policy at the Center for American Progress

List of the Week

from The National LGBTQ Advocacy Group Human Rights Campaign and PSB Research

  • 17% of LGBTQ people had lost their jobs because of COVID-19, compared to 13% of the general population
  • 1 in 3 LGBTQ respondents had their work hours reduced, compared to about 1 in 5 in the general population
  • 11% of LGBTQ respondents reported requesting rent delays, compared to 8% of the general population
  • 29% of LGBTQ respondents reported having access to paid medical leave if they or a family member were to get sick

Top Five News Headlines

  1. Amazon’s heavily automated HR leaves workers in sick-leave limbo
  2. Democrats say DOL keeping workers in the dark about paid leave
  3. Surprise unemployment drop sparks debate over how fast the economy will rally
  4. Don’t Let Your Partner’s Work Stress Become Your Own
  5. How to Address Unintentional and Unconscious Bias at Work