Sometimes, a business engages in practices that are against the law or are hazardous to communities around them or to those who purchase their products or services. In these cases, people who work for the company may become aware of the problem and may report it to appropriate agencies.
In order to prevent retaliation and loss of employment for what is essentially “doing the right thing” in reporting illegal or unethical business practices, laws have been passed to protect these individuals. These laws have been enacted on both a federal and state level. Continue reading for valjable information about the relevant laws covering those who report safety violations and illegal operations.
What Is A Whistleblower?
The term “whistleblower” comes from the historic use of a whistle by law enforcement officer to alert the public of a crime and to call them to aid in the chase of the suspect. Merchants soon began to use a whistle to alert the police of crimes against them, and the term “whistleblower” came into a wider usage.
The use of the term “whistleblower” also relates to referees in various sports who use a whistle to alert to fouls and other actions that are against the rules of play. Whistleblowing has come to mean “alerting the public of a crime or dangerous situation in regard to a business or agency.”
It is the formal reporting of illicit actions by these bodies, generally by someone who works at the business and who is in a position to have closely-held information about the problem. Generally, whistleblowing involves individual harm, or potential harm, a violation of public trust or a breach of national security.
Laws To Protect Whistleblowing
Because of their employment at the business that is engaged in the illegal activity, those who report illicit activities are subject to firing, harassment or other actions as a result of their going to authorities to report the problem.
To help these individuals, and to encourage other people to report problems that affect the public good, legislation has been enacted to provide protection from retaliation for whistleblowers.
Whistleblower protection legislation may cover particular industries, such as the food production or financial companies, because these often have a direct and detrimental effect on the public at large. Because of their importance to the public, other industries may also have their own laws regarding whistleblower protections, such as the transportation or nuclear power industry.
Examples of Company Wrongdoings That May Require Reporting
Some actions of a company or agency may be so egregious that the consequences could endanger the public health or violate the public trust, such as:
- A food manufacturing plant that does not implement appropriate cleaning procedures for equipment, which has the potential of putting public health in danger
- Employees of a financial institution is engaged in “insider trading” practices that enrich themselves at the expense of those who invest with them
- A manufacturing company that is engaged in disposing of waste products in a manner that constitutes a chemical hazard to the surrounding community
- A company that routinely fails to provide appropriate safety measures or equipment for employees to prevent injuries or death.
- A data storage company that routinely fails to provide sufficient security for users of the service that could provide a personal or national security breach
Federal Whistleblower Protection
In 1989, the federal government passed the Whistleblower Protection Act, which ensures legal support for those who call attention to unsafe or illegal activities by employers. Under these laws, employees who report problems cannot be subject to demotion or denial of overtime, blacklisting, intimidation, denial of benefits, reduced pay, firing or laying off because of their actions. Any employer that engages in these actions in retaliation for reporting a problem can be taken to court and prosecuted under federal statues.
State Laws Regarding Retaliation Against Whistleblowers
Laws regarding protections for those provide inside information about wrongdoing may vary from state to state. In some cases, legislators spell out specific actions that cannot be committed against a whistleblower, such as discharging them from their jobs or engaging in threats or hostile actions.
In other cases, the laws are less specific and may apply only to employees of state agencies. However, the majority of states provide protection for both public and private employees, and some state statutes may apply to unions. In Arizona, the law specifically states that companies and their representatives who have control over personnel matters cannot take reprisal against anyone who discloses information that is of public concern.
Arizona Laws to Protect Whistleblowers
Laws to protect those who report illegal actions by employers are covered under the Arizona Employment Protection Act, which also protects workers from discrimination. The law is designed to protect whistleblowers against a number of different types of retaliatory actions:
- An employee cannot be discharge for refusing to commit an illegal action in performance of his or her employment.
- Employees cannot be discharged or discriminated against for filing a complaint against the company for safety violations that endanger workers.
- Employees cannot be retaliated against for reporting illegal use of pesticides that could endanger the public.
- The whistleblower cannot be retaliated against for actions the company plans to do in the future of an illegal or unethical nature evidence of which has come to light.
How An Attorney Can Help
If you have reported an illegal, unsafe or unethical action by your employer, having an attorney can ensure that the company is being monitored for retaliatory actions. It can prevent the employee from having to endure threatening or punitive measures that can endanger their employment or create a hostile environment. Your attorney acts as a guardian over the process until the problem is legally resolved.
Inside information regarding illegal or unsafe actions is an important part of protecting the public and should be both encouraged and protected to ensure that companies and agencies are above board. If you have become aware of illegal or unsafe activities that should be reported to authorities, the law provides certain protections for your actions. Contact a whistleblowing protection attorney in Mesa, Arizona to discuss your rights and protections under the law.
Whether it is your employer cutting corners and putting your fellow coworkers at risk or a government official taking cash under the table, when you see something wrong and potentially illegal going on, you want to step in and report it. At the same time, you do not want to put your career in jeopardy or risk retaliation against you or your family. That is where whistleblower laws comes in.
These laws are designed to protect the brave individuals who are wiling to come forward and report wrongdoing when they see it. The legal protection these laws provide are designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, but it is important to understand the limitations of that protection and how the laws apply in the state of Arizona.
Like many other states, Arizona follows the doctrine of at-will employment. What that means is that unless specifically prohibited by statute, contract or constitutional provision, an employee may be terminated at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.
The Arizona Legislature has passed the Arizona Employment Protection Act, or AEPA, to provide legal remedies and special protection for private sector employees who feel they have been wrongfully terminated. That statute is designed to protect workers from being fired unjustly, and protection from retaliation in whistleblower cases is covered by this law.
The statutory protections Arizona provides are narrow in scope, providing a specific remedy for each violation. When the statute does not specify a remedy, the affected employee is able to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination. The AEPA statute is designed to address only discharges, and not to address other employment actions.
Federal law also provides affected workers with additional protection against retaliation. In addition, employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement or employment contract may have additional protections against some forms of retaliation.
Whistleblower protection is an integral part of the Arizona law. That whistleblower protection holds that an employee may not be fired in retaliation for disclosing that they have information (or a reasonable belief) that their employer is in violation of an Arizona statute or provision of the constitution. In order to be protected, the disclosure in question must be made in a reasonable manner.
In addition, in order to be eligible for the whistleblower protection, the individual must have been made either to the employer or to a representative of the employer who has the ability to take action. Disclosure may also be made to a public entity with the ability to take action. It is important to note that whistleblower disclosures made to media outlets, like TV news channels and radio stations, are not eligible for protection under the Arizona statute.
In addition to the previously stated protections, the AEPA also provides specific protections against a number of other forms of retaliation, including:
(The worker may not be terminated in retaliation if they refuse to commit an act in violation of state law (CITE: Arizona Rev. Statute § 23-1501(3)(c)(i).)
Reporting Workplace Violations
Reporting safety and health concerns, to the proper authorities is not illegal. When an employee reports their employers for breaking the law, this is considered “blowing the whistle.” Under most circumstances, such an employee is protected under the law. The law prohibits employees from being mistreated, retaliated against at work, or fired for whistleblowing as long as the employee had justifiable reasons to believe their employer broke the law, even if it is later found that the employer did not. Being a whistle-blower is not a crime, and your employer can not treat you like a criminal.
Common reasons for employees to blow the whistle on their employer include:
- Tax fraud
- Generally unlawful business practices
- Falsification of financial documents
- Racial discrimination, or sexual harassment
If you’ve been victimized for blowing the whistle on your employer then JacksonWhite’s employment law team can help. We’ll work with you to deal with your employer and stop the mistreatment.
Reimbursement for Whistle-blowers
Employees must report the illegal activity to authorities outside the company. In addition, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, enacted by Congress in 2002, provides additional protections for employees who “whistle blow” or report fraud committed by their employers.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.