Many people who become aware of the illegal conduct of another are compelled to report that conduct. However, the same may not be true when the person engaging in illegal conduct is an employer. In order to encourage the reporting of illegal conduct, many states have created laws that provide specific protection for "whistleblowers." Alabama is no exception.
What does it mean to be a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an individual who has knowledge of some illegal activity engaged in by their employer, and who reports that activity to the proper authority. In reality, being a whistleblower can be a very difficult decision because of the inevitable impact it will have on your job.
Because of the inherent risks in reporting your employer's misconduct, government regulatory agencies try to encourage employees to report improper activity by providing protection for doing so.
Alabama's whistleblower protections
Most whistleblower protections are designed to prevent employers from retaliating against employees who report illegal conduct. In Alabama, there are whistleblower protections under both state and federal laws. These protections include reporting discriminatory employment actions, workplace injuries under worker's compensation laws and workplace safety violations.
The False Claims Act
It is not uncommon for businesses to attempt to defraud the federal government by making false claims for payment. Many of these cases involve Medicare or Medicaid fraud, or fraudulent federal contracts. The False Claims Act is a federal law that not only provides protection for whistleblowers who report fraudulent claims, but also provide substantial rewards to those employees, including a portion of the money recovered by the government as a result of their report.
Does Alabama also protect employees in the private sector?
Unfortunately, Alabama remains one of only a few states that strictly follows the employment at-will doctrine. What makes matters worse, Alabama courts do not recognize a public policy exception, as many other states do. As a result, employees can be terminated for whistleblowing, unless there is a statutory exception.
Are there any statutory exceptions?
Fortunately, the Alabama legislature has seen fit to adopt a few very narrow statutory protections with regard to complaints of age discrimination, child labor and workers' compensation violations. The protections for age discrimination related protected activity can be found in Ala. Code § 25-1-28. Under that statute, employees cannot be terminated in retaliation for opposing unlawful age discrimination. Nor may an employee be terminated in retaliation for opposing child labor law violations. Ala. Code § 25-8-57. Finally, an Alabama employee cannot be terminated in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim or reporting, in writing, a violation of a written safety rule. Ala. Code § 25-5-11.1.
Filing a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Alabama
In Alabama, a whistleblower does not seek recovery through the state agency to which he or she reported the misconduct. Instead, the employee is allowed to file a lawsuit in court, within two (2) years of the retaliatory action.
If you feel you have been retaliated against for reporting employer misconduct, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady Michel & King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.