A whistleblower is defined as an individual who informs the authorities about a person or an organization that is performing actions that are illegal, improper, or harmful to public safety or health.
The whistleblower laws put in place by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safeguard employees from whistleblower retaliation, such as dismissal, decreased work hours, verbal harassment, and demotion.
Whistleblowing employees should nonetheless make sure to report complaints to employers in a way that will hold up in court if they ever need to take legal action. Moreover, it’s important to follow the proper procedures when filing a whistleblower claim under any primary US whistleblower law, such as the False Claims Act or the Dodd-Frank Act.
The following are six steps that employees can take when blowing the whistle on their employers’ misconduct.
1. Be Sure About the Illegality or Harmfulness of the Behavior
Make certain that you have an unbiased, reasonable basis for judging the behavior you’re reporting is either against the law or a menace to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the public.
The key word, in this case, is “reasonable.” Actions that are reasonably deemed illegal include fraud perpetrated on government authorities, failure to pay workers the full wages they are owed, and physical abuse of employees.
Examples of workers with a solid and reasonable basis for calling out their employers include supervisors who know undocumented immigrants are being hired and paid “under the table” and a nurse who sees a physician prescribe an improper and life-threatening medication to a patient.
However, the illegality or injurious nature of other types of adverse actions may be less obvious.
In instances where an employer’s conduct is less clearly illegal or improper, it’s prudent for a potential whistleblower to consult a lawyer or the appropriate governing agency before filing a complaint form.
Ideally, to establish the reasonableness of their concerns, whistleblowers should be able to identify a direct violation of a law or regulation enacted by a federal or state body. Suggested protocols or so-called “best practices” promoted by professional boards or organizations will have much less credence.
2. Consult a Whistleblower Attorney
Ensuring that you have an attorney who is well-versed in all facets of whistleblower law and cases on your side is one of the most important steps when filing a whistleblower claim.
If you have any doubts or concerns about the validity of your accusations, an attorney can help steer you in the right direction. Once you have obtained evidence of corporate wrongdoing, a qualified lawyer can review your whistleblower document and notify you of any possible revisions if you choose to write and submit it under your name.
On the other hand, a complaint composed by an attorney on your behalf has the benefit of informing your employer that you are taking your allegations seriously and are fully aware of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Your attorney will be your greatest asset during this process and can help guide you through the next steps.
3. Obtain Written Evidence of the Fraud or Harmful Behavior
This is the most significant step in the development of any whistleblower claim. You must acquire evidence of the fraud or harmful act that can be introduced at a trial in the form of documents instead of oral testimony. Such data can consist of email messages, internal memos, billing records, or experimental results.
Witnessing the misconduct in person is helpful but not required. The documentary evidence alone is enough to support your claim when it’s presented to the authorities. The more evidence that you obtain, the better the chances will be for your whistleblower case to succeed.
4. Inform the Appropriate Authorities
Simply grumbling to your coworkers about your employer’s conduct won’t be enough to uphold a whistleblower claim. Instead, it’s necessary to complain about the wrongdoing to a supervisor or manager who can pass it on to the appropriate higher-up or has the power to investigate and respond to your complaint in person.
If that fails, reporting directly to the state or federal government is the next step. For instance, a worker who is a witness to timesheet fraud could submit a complaint to the state wage and hour division. But remember, it’s always recommended to speak with a whistleblower attorney before you submit anything to the authorities on your own.
5. Describe the Misconduct in Writing
If you fail to document your complaint of employer wrongdoing, they can easily retaliate against your case through write-ups and bogus disciplinary actions that could lead to dismissal.
Your employer will most likely deny any wrongdoing and may have false documents for backup. Thus, it’s critical to report your employer’s misconduct in a formal letter or an email message to a relevant person in upper management. When doing so, remember to do the following.
Be sure that the wording of your communication is appropriate and timely. Once you establish that your employer’s actions are illegal, deceitful, or a threat to public health and wellbeing, inform your manager(s).
Involve as many managers in your communiqué as needed to let your employer know about your complaint and shield yourself from retaliation. For example, if you’re reporting on the misconduct of your direct supervisor or manager, include all of those up the chain of command in your communication. If your company has an HR representative, include them as well.
Maintain a neutral and factual tone in your written complaint instead of sounding incensed, intimidating, or spiteful. Briefly, but precisely, explain the actions you believe to be against the law, fraudulent, or a hazard to public health and safety.
If you are aware of the specific law or rule your employer is breaking, refer to it in your complaint. If not, then simply state your conviction that your employer’s conduct is unlawful, deceptive, or a threat to public health and welfare.
6. Continue to Perform Your Job to the Best of Your Ability
Even when protected by government laws and blowing the whistle on actions against the law, whistleblowing employees often face retaliation. Therefore, after submitting a formal complaint, you must make every effort to continue performing your job duties well.
Government protections offer no excuse for tardiness, shoddy or neglected work, or quarrels with colleagues and managers. Your employer will most likely try to find any justification for disciplining you or even firing you, so don’t provide them with one.
Contact Whistleblower Info Center for Help!
Whistleblower Info Center is powered by a team of attorneys knowledgeable about all facets of whistleblower law. Please contact us if you have any questions or are unsure of what to do next. Choosing whether or not to blow the whistle is a significant life decision, and we are here to help you along the way.