Whistleblowers are true unsung heroes. They are brave individuals who step forward and report potential wrongdoing by their employers. By doing so, whistleblowers serve a very important role in protecting both other employees and the general public.
However, being a whistleblower is not without risk. Blowing the whistle can put your job, reputation and even future career prospects in jeopardy. It can also take a toll on your physical and mental health if your employer retaliates or takes other actions to make your life at work as miserable as possible, so you’ll quit.
It is important, then, to take several steps before reporting your employer. This will not only ensure you are as protected as possible from potential retaliation, but also that your report is something government or enforcement officials can actually pursue.
Know the Applicable Laws
Whistleblowers have unique protections under both federal and state law. In Michigan, for example, there’s the Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA). That statute lays out what’s required to bring a whistleblower claim, as well as the protections available to whistleblowers. There are things that whistleblowers can do to ensure they are protected under the WPA, and ways in which they might jeopardize that protection. It is important to be clear on both.
Whistleblowers in certain industry sectors such as health care, finance, the automotive sector, government, or the military may have their own applicable whistleblower laws and even incentive programs for those who report wrongdoing.
Document and Act in a Timely Manner
Blowing the whistle is no different than making another type of complaint to or about your employer. You have to have documentation to back up your claims. So, just as you would when bringing an issue involving discrimination or harassment to Human Resources or the government, you need to keep a record of everything related to the alleged violations you want to report.
These records should be as specific and complete as possible, with days and times and names of those involved. Record who attended meetings, what was said and what actions came out of those meetings. It is also important to note if you raised any concerns formally or informally with supervisors or management, and what, if any, action was taken.
Specifically, you should:
- Make a written report of the violation/suspected violation of law to the appropriate public body.
- Keep written evidence of that report
- Notify your employer, preferably in writing, of the report
- After making the report, maintain a written log of any threats, discrimination, or retaliation up to and including termination
- Act quickly to enforce your WPA rights, given the 90-day statute of limitations
Consult with Your Own Attorney Before Doing Anything
Speaking with experienced employment litigation counsel before making a whistleblower report is crucial. A lawyer who has worked with whistleblowers will understand the applicable laws and can apply them to your situation. He or she can also advise on actions you should take at your place of work to both build the case for your report and ensure you are protected from retaliation or termination.
Your lawyer’s job is to make sure your interests are protected while you are taking action in service to your fellow employees and, in some cases, the good of the general public. This is not a time to go it alone or take advice from your employer’s lawyer – he or she will likely only be interested in protecting your employer.
If you are thinking about blowing the whistle on your employer, please contact us right away. A member of the Sommers Schwartz Employment Litigation Group can assess your situation and guide you in deciding whether or not to take such a step, while ensuring you are protected as much as possible.