Coming to the realization that an employer is engaged in wrongdoing is a difficult position for any employee. Employees in various professions have found themselves in this situation, but those who are working for the government may be particularly concerned about their own well-being if they call out their employer for violating the law.
Whether dealing with Medicare/Medicaid fraud or wrongdoing by a defense contractor, it is important for employees in these positions to know that the government not only protects but encourages employees to blow the whistle on employers that are using illegal practices while conducting business.
Are employees who blow the whistle against an employer protected against retaliation? Yes, it is generally illegal for an employer to retaliate against those who disclose wrongdoing. Whistleblowers are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act from negative treatment. This can include a poor performance review based solely on the fact that the employee disclosed wrongdoing as well as a demotion, suspension or termination from employment.
These protections extend not just to the original person initiating the whistleblower action, but to those who aid in this process or cooperate with disclosing information.
What happens if an employer retaliates against a whistleblower? Unfortunately, just because retaliation is illegal does not mean an employer will refrain from trying. Federal law supports whistleblower action and provides remedies to the employee in the event an employer retaliates.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) highlights four specific remedies that are available for employees that become the victims of retaliation:
- Job restoration. Those who were fired from their positions can get their jobs back if calling out illegal activities resulted in termination of employment.
- Reversal of adverse actions. Another remedy involves the reversal of any negative consequence like a demotion or downgrade of security clearance.
- Granting back pay. If you were terminated, downgraded or otherwise received a negative action that resulted in a reduction or loss of pay you can receive the amount that you were denied.
- Damages. The OIG also states that "reasonable and foreseeable consequential damages" can be awarded. This can include medical expenses and attorney fees as well as other costs that resulted from the retaliation.
Although it is comforting for those who are considering blowing the whistle on an employer, or those who already have, to know that remedies are available if an employer retaliates against such action, the process is still intimidating.
As such, it is often wise to contact experienced legal counsel if you are considering moving forward with holding an employer accountable for wrongdoing. Your lawyer can review your situation and help guide you through the process, working to better ensure your interests are protected.