7 Things to Consider Before Whistleblowing on Your Company
Blowing the whistle about illegal or unethical activities at your job can be complex and intimidating. If it seems like you’re the only one who feels the need to speak up, it can be incredibly alienating as well. As an employment lawyer with nearly 40 years of experience defending the rights of workers like you, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in this process. My law firm serving Dallas, Plano, Frisco, and McKinney from our office in Allen, TX, is dedicated to helping whistleblowers achieve justice.
Here’s what you have to know before taking action as a whistleblower:
1. You Should Contact an Attorney First and Foremost
Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing can be a massive undertaking for one person alone. You may face backlash from your employer, and if your case is not pristinely documented, the claim may go nowhere. Getting a whistleblower attorney on your side as you’re still deciding whether to take action is your best bet for a successful outcome.
Remember that you should never use a work-issued device to make contact with your attorney. This gives your company access to all communication and will compromise your whistleblowing case.
2. You Need to Determine If You Have a Legitimate Whistleblowing Claim
A wide range of unethical, unsafe, and illegal actions are grounds for a whistleblowing complaint. Examples of valid concerns include financial or insurance fraud, environmental damage, a risk to the health or safety of others, or a violation of any state or labor law or regulation.
It is important to remember that personal grievances are not grounds for whistleblowing. This includes concerns like harassment or bullying.
Put broadly, the whistleblower’s complaint must have an external focus. However, if you are dealing with a concern that affects your personal experience in the workplace instead, such as sexual harassment or a hostile work environment, an employment attorney can still help you hold the responsible parties accountable.
3. You Need to Build a Paper Trail
Keep in mind that you are relying on your perspective of the wrongdoing when building a whistleblower complaint. It’s important that you document every piece of evidence you can with the time, date, and individuals involved, if possible. The more specific, the better. A whistleblower protection attorney can help you ensure you have the proper evidence to file a legitimate report.
4. You Can Blow the Whistle Through Multiple Channels
You may have the option to make your report internally (through your employer), externally (to a legal or regulatory body like OSHA), or to the media.
- Your employer may have an online portal, a phone hotline, or another internal channel through which to report wrongdoing. Even if these channels promise anonymity or confidentiality, your employer may still try to determine your identity.
- Third-party reporting can be effective and protect your anonymity, but you must have strong documentation to back up your claim.
- Going to the media can be especially tricky. Many public whistleblowers face attacks on their personal and professional reputations, and if you disclose sensitive or classified information to the media, it can be considered a crime.
It can be hard to determine which channel is best to report your complaint. The team at our law offices in Allen, serving greater Dallas, TX, can help you make the right choice for your specific case.
5. You Have Rights As a Whistleblower
The United States has strong protections for whistleblowers. Among them are:
- The Whistleblower Protection Act: This federal law defends whistleblowers from employer retaliation directly related to protected legal activities.
- The False Claims Act: This act allows private citizens to file lawsuits against individuals or organizations that are defrauding the government. The whistleblower is entitled to protection from retaliation, as well as an award of up to 30% of what the government recovers if the case is successful.
In 2021, John Peter Smith Hospital in Tarrant County, TX, agreed to pay upwards of $3.3 million in response to a False Claims Act violation filed by an internal whistleblower. The hospital was found to have modified billing claims to obtain money it was not owed.
- The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act: This act disallows retaliation against employees who raise concerns against manufacturers, distributors, importers, or retailers about the safety or quality of their products.
- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act: This act protects employees and investors by setting standards for record keeping and financial reporting on the part of publicly traded companies. Those who blow the whistle about violations of the act are entitled to protections.
The State of Texas also takes whistleblower protection seriously. Through the Texas Whistleblower Act, public employees who make good-faith reports on their employer’s legal violations are protected from termination, suspension, or other adverse actions.
6. Your Employer May Retaliate Anyway
It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you after you make a whistleblowing complaint, but they may do so anyway. Whistleblower retaliation commonly takes these forms:
- Termination or Demotion: Your employer may fire you or lower your position within the company. Since Texas is an at-will employment state, you can be fired without notice and without reason. However, it is considered wrongful termination if they fire or demote you after you file a whistleblower complaint.
- Withholding of Benefits or Pay: Your employer may deny you the use of sick or vacation time you are entitled to. They may also withhold pay for hours worked, including overtime.
- Workplace Discrimination: You may find yourself faced with a hostile work environment after blowing the whistle. This includes harassment, exclusion, isolation, being given unmanageable workloads, and denial of opportunities for growth.
7. You Can Blow the Whistle Over FMLA Violations
The Family Medical Leave Act grants employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to attend to health conditions, pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, or the care of a loved one. It’s an unfortunate truth that many employers will wrongfully deny, short-change, or discriminate against employees who file for FMLA.
If you believe your employer violated the conditions of FMLA, you can pursue legal action or consider blowing the whistle. My Allen, TX, team and I are well-versed in FMLA law and would be glad to help you with your case.
The Law Offices of Dan A. Atkerson Are Ready to Fight for You
Shedding light on illicit activity in the workplace is a noble act, but you will likely face significant legal, regulatory, and work-related hurdles in the process. My team and I admire those who are driven to the right thing, and we help them protect their rights with dedicated and knowledgeable representation.
If you are considering blowing the whistle against your employer, don’t go it alone. We’ll be here to guide you along every step of the way, starting with a free consultation at our Allen, TX, law office, serving the entire Dallas area. Contact us today.
Dan A. Atkerson
Dan A. Atkerson has worked as a civil employment law attorney in DFW since 1984. He has extensive knowledge of state and federal labor statutes and is a member of both the State Bar of Texas and the Dallas Bar Association.