Federal Whistleblower Statutes: An Overview
It is important to employment that whistleblower statutes are there to protect employees who choose to do the right thing, when their employers do not. There are many federal whistleblower statutes now, each one allowing for possible economic recovery in the form of compensatory and punitive damages. The various statutes typically relate to either a particular industry or a certain health or safety hazard.
What is a "whistleblower?"
When an employee discovers illegal conduct occurring at his place of employment, he may be compelled to report it. What often prevents employees from doing so is the fear that they will lose their jobs. To encourage employees to come forward and report illegal conduct, the federal legislature has created numerous protections for these brave employees, referred to as "whistleblowers."
The Occupational Safety & Health Act, more commonly known as OSHA, provides protection for employees who, among other things, file safety and health complaints and participate or cooperate in health and safety inspections. Claims of retaliation under OSHA must be filed by employees within 30 days of the retaliatory act. Here are a few other examples of environment related laws that provide whistleblower protection:
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act - asbestos use in public or private non-profit elementary and secondary school systems.
- Clean Air Act - violations relating to harmful air emissions.
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act - cleanup of hazardous waste sites, as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants.
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act - violations relating to discharge of pollutants into water
- Solid Waste Disposal Act - violations relating to the disposal of solid and hazardous waste (including medical waste) at active and future facilities.
The National Transit Systems Security Act is a very important federal statute protecting transit employees. This statute protects employees who report a hazardous safety or security condition, a violation of federal law pertaining to public transportation safety, or the abuse of federal grants or other public funds appropriated for public transportation. This statute also protects public transit employees who refuse to work when faced with hazardous safety or security conditions. Other transportation related statutes include:
- Federal Railroad Safety Act - relating to railroad safety or security, or the abuse of public funds appropriated for railroad safety.
- International Safe Container Act - employees involved in international shipping who report to the Coast Guard the existence of an unsafe intermodal cargo container or violations
- Pipeline Safety Improvement Act - violations of federal laws related to pipeline safety and security or who refuse to violate such laws.
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act - protects truck drivers and other employees who refuse to violate regulations related to the safety of commercial motor vehicles or who report violations of those regulations.
Consumer and Investor Protection
The Affordable Care Act, one of the newest statutes passed in this area, protects employees who report, for example, discrimination based on an individual's receipt of health insurance subsidies, the denial of coverage based on a preexisting condition. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is another well-known consumer protection statute. It protects certain employees, such as employees of publicly traded companies and their subsidiaries, who report a wide array of violations, including:
- mail, wire, bank or securities fraud
- violations of the SEC rules and regulations
- violation of federal laws related to fraud against shareholders.
If you feel you have been the victim of retaliation as a whistleblower, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.