Back to the Basics: Understanding Whistleblowers

 In Employment Law

There is nothing more devastating to a loyal and law-abiding employee than being fired for reporting the misconduct or illegal activity observed in the workplace (i.e. whistleblowers). Your employer retaliating against you for doing what is right is a travesty, and allowing employers to behave in this way without consequence would cause employees to fear their employers. Fear of retaliation could lead to businesses engaging in unchecked illegal activity, unsafe work environments, or hazardous working conditions for employees.

Each state has whistleblower protection laws designed to prevent businesses from firing employees in retaliation for reporting illegal activity going on in the business. Wrongful termination as a retaliatory measure for whistleblowing is considered a form of harassment. When an employee is wrongfully terminated from his or her job after reporting wrongdoing committed by the employer, the terminated employee may have a cause of action for a harassment suit.  

What is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is someone in a company who reports misconduct or illegal behavior to the government, law enforcement, or superiors. The whistleblower must believe that the information he or she is disclosing concerns:

  • A violation of law, regulation, or ordinance
  • A workplace employee safety issue or unsafe working conditions.
  • A risk to employee health.

Whistleblower protection laws also apply to an employee’s refusal to participate in an activity or business practice he or she believes to be illegal.

How are Whistleblowers Protected?

The law prohibits employers from making rules or policies against employees engaging in whistleblower activity, and makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee that is a whistleblower. If an employee reports misconduct in the workplace to supervisors, law enforcement of the government, employers cannot retaliate against the employee for doing so. Similarly, employers are not permitted to retaliate against employees who refuse to engage in specific activities or business practices that the employee believes to in violation of the law. Employees have the right to act as whistleblowers, and employers have no right to retaliate against employees who choose to exercise their whistleblower rights.

Wells Fargo Employee Sues Over Wrongful Termination and Retaliation

There are many examples of employees being mistreated in this matter, Fortunately, the law provides avenues to address those wrongs.

For example, consider the the array of news reports that many Wells Fargo employees had opened fraudulent accounts on behalf of countless customers. A former Wells Fargo employee filed a wrongful termination and whistleblower protection lawsuit against the bank after she was fired for reporting illegal activity in the company to her superiors. The employee was allegedly harassed by her bosses and ultimately fired as a result of reporting at least 25 instances of improper sales and account activity by fellow employees to her superiors at Wells Fargo in 2014. She was fired in March of 2015.

While Wells Fargo officials claim that the bank has a non-retaliation policy, the employee alleges that she was disciplined, interrogated, harassed, demoted, transferred, denied wage increases and instead had her wages reduced as a consequence of her whistleblowing activities before she was terminated.

If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated or have been harassed by your employer after engaging in whistleblower activities, please feel free to contact Herrmann Law today to schedule an initial free consultation.

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