In the past and the present, the term “whistleblower” has had quite a few negative connotations. This seems to be due to the fact that employees are fearful that reporting their employer for illicit conduct may result in disciplinary action or even termination.
That sort of thinking ends here. While it can be quite intimidating or even frightening to report misconduct on behalf of your employer, if in fact illegal activity is going on in your workplace, reporting it to the proper authority is the right thing to do.
Here are four things you should keep in mind when considering whether to report your employer for legal violations or fraud.
1. The Whistleblower Protection Act
The Whistleblower Protection Act is a United States federal law that protects you from your employer retaliating against you for exercising your rights as an employee. So what does that really mean for you? Your employer cannot take unfavorable action against you for reporting any illegal activity committed on their part.
2. Where is the line?
As an employee you have many legal protections, and included in those are whistleblower retaliation laws. With that said, it is important to note that just because these laws are in place does not mean you can report any conduct you don’t agree with on behalf of your employer.
If your employer enforces a corporate policy or provides you with reasonable negative feedback, you are not necessarily protected under whistleblower statutes. But if your employer is enforcing a policy that you believe is illegal or fraudulent, at that point it might be time to take further action.
So remember, use your best judgment and be reasonable . A good rule of thumb is to think about someone else in your position with the same training and consider whether he or she would believe that there was any misconduct to report.
3. Who to talk to
Often the person or people you are reporting on are your immediate supervisor or manager, which can make it particularly difficult if you see some form of misconduct or fraud on their part or on the part of the organization as a whole. Having said that, most of the time these types of claims are kept anonymous.
Knowing who to talk to and knowing that there are always people to talk to is important. Most likely you will be reporting to a government agency, but sometimes it may start at a lower level and it will be someone you trust within your organization (whatever their title may be). Just remember, you most likely can remain anonymous, so don’t let any fears of getting in trouble with your employer get in the way if you believe you have a legitimate claim.
4. Moving forward in the process
Once you have approached the relevant source (most likely the relevant governmental agency), the burden of proof is really on you from that point on, meaning that you and possibly any attorney you choose to consult must prove that your employer committed illegal acts.
There are certain documents that you will want to (and should be able to) gather in order to help build your case, including:
· Job duties, performance evaluations or disciplinary warnings;
· In-house memos;
· Reason for dismissal (if dismissal has taken place); and/or
· Corporate policies or copy of the company handbook.
It is not easy to be put in the position of having to be a whistleblower. Just remember that you have support through the law and various governmental agencies. So if something illegal or fraudulent has occurred in your workplace, it is best to report it and seek help.