When an employee witnesses or identifies illegal activity in the workplace, he or she has a responsibility to take proper actions to report it. Unfortunately, the reality of such situations is that these employees often face the hard choice of reporting a violation — and likely suffering some extensive personal losses — or keeping quiet and protecting their own interests.
This is understandable, because a poorly-handled whistleblowing attempt may bring many problems for an employee who makes the decision to report violations. If the employer responds negatively, the employee may suffer whistleblowing retaliation and lose his or her job or even the ability to get hired again in the industry or job sector.
Whistleblowing retaliation is not legal, but it is still far more common than you might think. If you suspect that your employer may retaliate against you for reporting violations, or if you already experienced retaliation, be very careful how you respond. The response you choose could greatly impact the outcome of your ordeal and your future prospects. It is vitally important to take proper precautions, keeping your rights and opportunities well protected.
Retaliation to whistleblowing is complicated
If you report potentially illegal activity at your workplace and your employer fires you, at first glance, this may seem like an open-and-shut case of retaliation. However, the laws that govern this particular legal area vary from state to state and may come with surprising restrictions.
If you are still able, it is wise to make sure you understand the legal issues at hand as clearly as possible before you report a violation. You may think that you witnessed something illegal, but if you report it without sufficient research you may jeopardize your own future based on a misunderstanding or a violation with no proof it ever occurred. An employer may not fire an employee for whistleblowing, but is probably within its rights to fire an employee who causes trouble over a misunderstanding that did not involve illegal activity.
It is wise to use many legal and professional resources as you prepare your claim or response to action from your employer, including government agencies that oversee business practices or regulate your particular sector. This may involve attorneys who can advise you on your rights and how to protect them and agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These agencies can help you understand the severity of the violation you witnessed and the process to move forward with reporting it.
Protect yourself at every opportunity
Reporting on some other parties’ wrongdoing almost always causes difficulties and may threaten the well-being of the reporting party. Make sure that you have a full understanding of the legal foundation of your whistleblowing or retaliation claim,to ensure that you can protect your own interests. A properly operating business environment must include those willing to stand up and report unfair or destructive practices. Always prepare yourself for this responsibility and use all your resources to keep yourself secure.