Whistleblowers – Do You Know Your Rights?

Have you uncovered evidence that the company you work for is “up to no good?” Have you learned information that has made you question the company’s ethics or business practices? What do you do with this information?

Some employees worry that if they reveal illegal or unethical activities to their supervisor or the authorities, they may face retaliation and even lose their jobs. Others take the risk and face whatever consequences follow. The government refers to employees who report the wrongdoing as “whistleblowers.”

Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Protect Whistleblowers

It seems fundamentally unfair that a person who reports or complains about improper, unethical, and illegal practices taking place at work can be fired or otherwise punished by their employers. The fear of termination forces many to remain silent.

However, employees do have rights, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, are two pieces of federal legislation you should know. Congress enacted these laws, in part, to protect whistleblowers working at publicly traded companies from retaliation or termination in the event they report things like illegal activities and SEC violations.

These laws also protect employees who may stop short of reporting violations but are terminated or punished because they refuse to participate in the illegal conduct. Publicly traded companies cannot legally fire or punish any employee because they report or refuse to go along with suspicious or illegal activities. Employers who violate the whistleblower provisions of these acts, and similar laws, face serious punishment.

The Case of Romano v. Santander Bank NA

Look, for example, at a case recently filed in New York. Santander Bank, NA is a publicly traded company. Robert Romano, a former New York City branch manager for Santander, is suing the bank. Mr. Romano alleges that he was fired less than two months after being hired. He claims the bank fired him for reporting evidence to his superiors, that the bank was engaging in mortgage fraud.

Mr. Romano states that he uncovered and reported numerous other violations of federal banking and securities laws to his superiors and the CEO of Santander. Instead of moving to rectify the problems, Mr. Romano claims that the company asked him to participate in the fraud by requiring that he sign an audit misrepresenting Santander‘s compliance with federal banking laws.

He did not sign the misleading report, and his complaint states this refusal, along with his conversations with superiors regarding the violations, resulted in his prompt firing for “not being a good fit.” Romano claims that his termination violated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Dodd-Frank.

Federal and State Laws May Protect Employees

The government created whistleblower protection laws so employees will not be afraid to speak up when they see improper activities. From a public policy perspective, this certainly makes sense – even at non-public companies. Logic suggests that it is best to foster an environment where companies will not tolerate illegal activities. Employees with protection will be more inclined to speak up when they observe wrongdoing.

Whether it is an employee reporting sexual harassment, a government worker reporting fraud, or a broker reporting securities fraud, employees should know that there are laws to protect their jobs. In addition to the federal acts discussed above, many states, including New York, have additional whistleblower and other legislation protecting employees. In fact, New York protects its citizens with some of the most comprehensive employees’ rights laws in the nation.

Understand Your Rights

An employer who fires a whistleblower may face hefty punishment. A company may be required to pay a huge fine, back salary, and other monetary damages to the employee. Mr. Romano in this matter, wants Santander and its employees to stop discriminating against other employees with information about the bank’s illegal activities. His action seeks to get his job back–with 2x back pay plus interest. Mr. Romano also seeks damages of an unspecified amount for economic loss, emotional distress, and attorney’s fees.

If you have faced retaliation or termination because you reported illegal, unethical or improper activity at your place of business, you may be entitled to return to your job or recover monetary damages. Consider consulting with an experienced attorney. You may be unsure about how to proceed, but you should, at least, know what your rights are. Attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, PC, can help you make an informed decision and move forward.