When most Minnesota residents get up and go to work in the morning, they aren't thinking about what they would do if they found out that their employer was breaking the law. For most people, they just want to do their job, do it well and provide for their family. But, what happens if you do find yourself in a position where you discover that your employer is violating the law? In this type of situation, it is important to know that you will likely be protected by the law if you inform the proper authorities about the illegal conduct.
There are many employees in Minnesota who are placed in a position of trust, none more so than those who are responsible for taking care of other people's money. Workers who manage pension accounts are subject to the protections of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, also known as "ERISA." But, when ERISA violations occur, can whistleblower protections help?
Most people probably expect their workplace to be fairly routine on a day-to-day basis. So, when an employee finds out that the employer has engaged in illegal activity, it can be quite a surprise. The illegal activity could be something like purposefully failing to pay wages that are owed, falsifying official documents or even hiring undocumented workers. Principled employees who find themselves in this type of situation make the right move: inform the appropriate authorities.
Employees in Minneapolis rarely see something illegal or untoward happening on the job, but these situations can happen. You might have seen your co-workers regularly dumping sewage in a local river. Or, perhaps your industrial company has made it a policy to violate the Clean Air Act.
In today's political climate, federal workers in Minnesota and nationwide may have heard about recent reports regarding "gag orders" on those who work for federal agencies. However, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is the government entity tasked with enforcing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, has issued requirements that federal agencies ensure that their policies allow workers to "blow the whistle."
People in Minnesota like to think their employers are ethical, but this is not always the case. Sometimes some employers in Minnesota commit acts of fraud against the government. Should an employee find this out, they may feel ethically bound to report the acts to the proper authorities. To do so, they can file a suit called a "qui tam action." Under this kind of lawsuit, the government can be compensated for the funds it lost because of an employer's fraudulent acts. The employee who brought the lawsuit is then awarded a certain percentage of the funds recovered.
When someone provides you with the money you need to pay for food, shelter and your bills, you may feel some sense of loyalty or dependence. That's how you may feel about your employer - necessary to your livelihood.
Our last post discussed how Minnesota statutes protect workers against retaliation if they blow the whistle and report their employer's illegal activities. Unfortunately, sometimes employers break these laws and retaliate against whistleblowers. They may discriminate against the whistleblower, for example, by unlawfully denying them a promotion or by demoting them. They may unjustly punish the whistleblower or could even outright fire the whistleblower. Although these acts are illegal, they still occur far too often.
Learning your employer has engaged in illegal activity, or being asked to perform illegal work tasks, is a very troubling and serious situation to find yourself in. You may want to report such activities, but may fear your employer will retaliate against you if you blow the whistle. However, Minnesota law provides workers in the state with whistleblower protection.
Most employees in Minnesota are hard workers who believe in integrity, fairness and doing the right thing. Moreover, they may also hold their employers to the same standards, expecting that their employers will not break the law. Unfortunately, employers are not always so upstanding. Some employers break the law.