A whistleblower is someone who tells authorities about illegal or unauthorized activity taking place within an organization. A whistleblower is often an employee who lets someone outside or within the business know that misconduct is occurring. The illegal conduct may be fraud against the government, illegal sexual harassment, health or safety violations, and/or racial discrimination, just to name a few. A whistleblower can report the activity to any one of a number of entities, including the police, a government agency or the human resources department.
There are laws that protect whistleblowers who may be concerned about reporting illegal activities or unsafe conduct. These laws prohibit employers from retaliating against whistleblowers and provide recourse for whistleblowers when employers do retaliate. The government has a strong interest in encouraging workers to report wrongdoing. Laws like the Whistleblower Protection Act are an attempt to reassure employees that they can report certain wrongdoing without fear of losing their jobs.
As reported by the New York Times, in 2010, an unnamed former bank manager reported to his superiors and the bank’s ethics hotline what he perceived was fraudulent activity. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), one of the federal agencies that enforces whistleblower protection laws, the manager was “abruptly dismissed” after reporting “separate incidents of suspected bank, mail and wire fraud by two bankers under his supervision.”
When Wells Fargo terminated his employment, the bank gave him 90 days to find a new position within the company. The manager’s attempts to do so were unsuccessful, and OSHA reports that he has not been able to work in banking since. The whistleblower filed a complaint in 2011. After its initial investigation, OSHA found that the manager had a successful employment record at the bank and that his termination was “at least in part” the result of his whistleblowing.
Federal regulators ordered Wells Fargo to pay the unnamed whistleblower $5.4 million in damages that were the result of the bank’s unlawful retaliation against him. According to OSHA, the money is to “cover back pay, compensatory damages, and legal fees.” Barbara Goto, OSHA’s regional administrator in San Francisco, CA, said that it is the “largest individual award ever ordered through OSHA’s whistle-blower protection program.” According to OSHA, the bank must also rehire him.
This particular case against Wells Fargo involved termination of employment and occurred during a period when thousands of the bank’s employees were accused of carrying out widespread fraud. When a whistleblower who is terminated files a retaliation complaint, it is customary, as OSHA did, to examine past performance reviews and job history to help uncover the real reason for the employer’s action.
Retaliation for whistleblowing, however, is not always in the form of firing. There are other ways in which employers retaliate against individuals who report illegal activity. Some examples of retaliation are:
Remember, employees who report unlawful activity receive legal protection from retaliation. If you are a whistleblower who has been the victim of any of these actions, you may have recourse, including the ability to recover monetary compensation and reinstatement.
Employment rights attorneys representing individuals across New York are here to help. At Leeds Brown Law, P.C., we can provide you with a free consultation and help you understand your rights as a whistleblower. Before you do anything, protect yourself by calling Leeds Brown at 1-800-585-4658.