Has your treatment on the job changed recently? Have you all of a sudden received performance criticisms you never received before? Were you terminated for a bogus reason? And did this negative treatment come after a time you told your employer or a government agency that the company was doing something illegal?
If this sounds familiar, you may be a whistleblower and the retaliation you have experienced is likely illegal. Many states (including Minnesota) and federal statutes prohibit what has happened to you and you may have recourse for the damage caused by the retaliation.
A whistleblower is a person who literally “takes a stand” against illegal conduct in the workplace. Whistleblower laws generally say that employers cannot retaliate against employees who do one of two things:
- report illegal conduct to managers, higher level executives or outside government agencies
- refuse to do something against the law and tell the employer the reason for refusing
Whistleblower laws cover many types of conduct. Some statutes cover specific things such as OSHA violations and securities or Medicare fraud. Minnesota’s Whistleblower statute is broad and includes illegal conduct violating any statute, regulation, or common law claim. Where the health care industry is involved, it even covers ethical standards.
To make a claim under Minnesota’s Whistleblower statute, you may be covered even if you didn’t identify a specific statute, regulation or law and even if you were wrong about what actually happened. As a whistleblower, you may be entitled to damages for retaliation, as long as you have a good faith belief that the conduct you reported violated a law, and as long as the conduct, if it had happened, would in fact have been illegal.
Now – about the retaliation itself – sometimes the connection between the whistleblowing and the change in an employee’s treatment is obvious. Sometimes it is more subtle. For example, an employer or particular manager may not strike back immediately, but may just sit back and wait for some minor problem to come up to justify disciplining or terminating an employee. Whatever the nature of the negative actions and the timing, this retaliation is illegal.
The laws are designed to deter employers from punishing whistleblowers. That said, it still takes great courage to blow the whistle on an employer. Consulting with an employment lawyer as soon as possible, even before you blow the whistle, can help you get maximum protection under the whistleblower laws.