You may have heard the term “whistleblower,” but may not know what it means. Much like a referee in a sporting event, it’s someone who sees some type of illegal, unethical or other improper conduct by their employer, and “blows the whistle,” or alerts authorities or the press to the actions.
Who Is A Whistleblower?
Whistleblowers can be just about anyone, from a construction worker or foreman to an office clerk, a first responder or agency employee, a manager of any level, or a hospital employee from a janitor or orderly to department head or chief medical officer. The term applies to anyone who calls out improper conduct at work to a higher-level supervisor, a governing agency, the press, or other authority, in either the private or public sector.
Examples of a whistleblower include:
- A retail employee who becomes aware that another employee or manager is violating company policies, particularly in terms of the company’s funds
- A nursing home employee who notifies a state regulating agency about patient neglect, abuse, mistreatment or financial exploitation
- A construction worker who notifies a regulating agency about the lack of safety equipment or procedures on a job site
- An office worker who notifies a governing agency about funds and/or supplies that are missing or misappropriated
- A financial services professional who becomes aware of a client’s funds misappropriated by a colleague, “selling away” (selling products not represented by the firm) or convincing clients to purchase investments that are speculative and lead to potential client losses and reports them accordingly
Of course, these are just a few of the ways where someone can be a whistleblower. There can be any number of situations where the term can apply.
Many people may consider a whistleblower a hero. However, those identified don’t always see it that way. When improper conduct is exposed, there is a significant chance that retaliation against the whistleblower is a strong possibility. Fortunately, there are some protections available.
Colorado’s Laws For Protection
The state offers protections for both public-sector and private-sector employees who highlight such actions. Colorado is an at-will employment state, but there are protections for whistleblowers in the case of wrongful termination and other retaliatory measures.
The first is Colorado Revised Statutes Section 24-50.5-103, which protects public employees who disclose information in the public interest, so long as it is true and not confidential. To report retaliation, the employee must file a report within 30 days of the incident.
The second is Colorado Revised Statutes Section 24-114-102, which protects private employees. In this case, the employee must attempt to provide their information to a supervisor or another internal division before providing it to an outside authority or agency. A private employee can also file a civil lawsuit after unlawful termination or other retaliation without first submitting to a formal complaint process. There is a two-year statute of limitations for filing such a lawsuit.
Federal Whistleblower Protection
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects federal employees who expose corruption, waste, and illegal acts related to their employment. The law also protects them from retaliation such as pay cuts, demotions, transfers and terminations after reporting.
The NO FEAR Act of 2002 added training for federal managers and supervisors to discourage retaliation against whistleblowers. It is intended to “improve agency accountability for anti-discrimination and whistleblower laws.”
Sarbanes-Oxley Act (also of 2002) was also added to protect investors after a number of accounting scandals.
You can also file a federal complaint at the Office of Special Counsel’s website.
In governing the financial services sector, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has its own whistleblower program. The SEC’s program also comes with financial incentives.
The agency has awarded over $300 million in awards since the beginning of the program in 2011. Many of these awards have been substantial, and have been awarded to those who uncover illegal or unethical activity in companies that handle investments.
You can learn more about the SEC’s own whistleblower program here.
Contact the Civil Rights Litigation Group in Denver CO
“Blowing the whistle” on wrongdoing at work is a big step. Because of the complexities involved in this kind of action, it’s a good idea to speak with an employment law attorney before you do so. Retaliation is not uncommon, and is also against the law.
The Civil Rights Litigation Group is dedicated to protecting the rights of employee whistleblowers who are targeted with retaliation. If you find yourself fired or otherwise disciplined for whistleblowing, we can pursue lawsuit against you/ employers who have retaliated against employees, and will fight to get you compensation for your damages. For a free, no-obligation consultation with the Civil Rights Litigation Group, call our Denver CO law firm today at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form.