Whistleblower Retaliation: Survival and Next Steps

July 30, 2020

Whistleblower retaliation occurs when an employer penalizes a worker for engaging in protected activity.  Protected activity is when an employee objects to or refuses to participate in, an activity, policy, or practice of their employer that is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation.

What are Common Examples of Whistleblower Retaliation?

In whistleblower retaliation, an employee brings attention to a legal violation by his or her employer and is subsequently fired or otherwise retaliated against because of that action. There can be many types of unfair treatment or adverse employment actions that may constitute illegal retaliation if it’s motivated to punish the employee.

Some common examples of whistleblower retaliation include:

  • Termination or being fired;
  • Suspension;
  • Demotion;
  • Denial of a promotion;
  • Workplace harassment;
  • Ridicule;
  • A hostile or unsafe work environment;
  • Employment penalties or sanctions;
  • Denial of benefits; and
  • Denial of bonuses.

What Laws Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation?

There are numerous federal laws that protect employees from retaliation for reporting various safety and/or health violations in the workplace. Many are tailored to specific industries, such as airlines, commercial trucking, consumer products, environmental, financial, food safety, health insurance, motor vehicle safety, nuclear energy, petroleum, public transportation, railroads, maritime, securities, and tax. Many of these acts protect the general public and employees who disclose information that the employee believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, gross mismanagement, abuse of power, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

There are whistleblower provisions in more than 20 statutes that OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces. Most whistleblower statutes protect workers, making it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an individual who engages in conduct which the law protects.

A significant federal law that protects whistleblowers is contained in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). This provision prohibits retaliation against a whistleblower acting in good faith, even if his or her report doesn’t ultimately lead to a conviction or a finding of wrongdoing.

What About Florida State Whistleblowing Laws?

Florida has two primary laws that protect employees from retaliation. One protects public employees, and the other protects private employees. The Florida Whistle-blower’s Act protects public employees, and private employees in the state are protected under the Florida Private Sector Whistleblower Act.

Can I Be Fired for Whistleblowing in the Workplace?

Employers who retaliate against whistleblowers will frequently contend that there’s a legitimate reason for terminating, demoting, or otherwise penalizing or punishing the employee.

An experienced whistleblower retaliation lawyer at FGBO will analyze your case and determine if the purported justification is actually a pretext or an excuse to conceal the whistleblower retaliation.

How Can I Bring an Action Against My Employer?

The strategy and process for bringing a whistleblower lawsuit will depend on several factors, including but not limited to the following:

  • Whether you are a public (state, local, or federal) or private employee;
  • Whether the industry has a specific whistleblower statute or program;
  • Whether you’ve suffered an adverse employment action by your employer;
  • Whether the evidence is sufficient to prevail in a whistleblower lawsuit;
  • Whether the fraud or misconduct has already been made public;
  • Whether your information is timely.

Typically, an employee bringing a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit must prove a causal link between the whistleblowing and the retaliatory employment action. This evidence of retaliation on the part of the employer may consist of direct evidence concerning motive or indirect (circumstantial) evidence that helps your attorney with a persuasive argument.

Examples of indirect evidence can include items such as a close timing between the whistleblowing and hostile employment action, testimony from co-workers, employment records, employer communications, performance evaluations, and other circumstantial evidence of whistleblower retaliation.

What Damages Are Available for Whistleblowing Claims?

The amount of a plaintiff’s damages depends on many of the factors described above. However, in most whistleblower retaliation actions, an employee will seek the following:

  • Back pay, which is the wages and benefits you lost from being wrongfully fired;
  • Reinstatement or front pay, which is to request that the court order the employer to give you back your job or, if that’s not possible, to award you the pay you’ll forfeit going forward until you secure a new job;
  • Your out-of-pocket expenses from being fired, like job search costs;
  • Emotional pain and suffering damages; and
  • Your attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Under some statutes, your attorney may seek punitive damages to punish the employer for reckless and egregious misconduct.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, in some whistleblower cases, you might be eligible for a fee or a reward for protecting the public from wrongdoing. For example, successful claims under the False Claims Act allows private citizens to bring a qui tam lawsuit on the government’s behalf. The law is frequently used by whistleblowers to report fraud against the federal government, and it allows for a sizeable reward—a percentage of any government recovery, usually from 15% to 30%.

Contact an Experienced Whistleblower Lawyer

If your employer has treated you unfairly because of whistleblowing, you should speak with an experienced whistleblower lawyer at Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC. Our knowledgeable attorney can tell you whether your claim has merit and what steps to take to protect your rights. An experienced whistleblower retaliation lawyer at FGBO may be able to help you obtain damages for your treatment and injuries.

At Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, our legal team is dedicated to the pursuit of justice for the people we represent. Our law firm has more than 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in employment law. We operate differently than many law firms and always put the best interests of our clients first. Contact Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC today.

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