When a person begins a new job, or has worked in the same field for many years, they soon become aware of the brand of ethics within the industry as well as what actions are legal or illegal for employees or management to engage in.
When an employee notices a breach in those ethics, and/or outright illegal actions they may report other employees or management to someone higher up in the company, or may report the company itself to the police or other authorities, in order to keep in line with their own personal morals or standards, as well as remain in line with the law. These people are often referred to as "whistleblowers." because they "blow the whistle" on corruption in the workplace.
Types of whistleblowers
There are many different types of wrongdoing that can be exposed by a whistle blower. Maybe a coworker is being harassed or denied benefits. A company may regularly require employees to work off the clock. Businesses may fudge on safety regulations. Companies can violate customer or employee privacy. Just to name a few.
Whether you work in an office or on a construction site, standing up to injustice is a brave thing to do, but many people stay silent for fear they will lose their much needed job if they report what is going on.
At-will employment is among the most common relationships between employers and employees. It means that employees or employers both have the right to cancel the employment agreement at any time for any reason - or for no reason.
Some employees mistakenly think this type of employment agreement means their employer has the right to do whatever they want in regards to their employees. This is not true. At-will employment does not give employers license to discriminate against or retaliate against employees who report illegal or unethical behavior.
Protections for whistleblowers
Employees who report wrongdoing in good faith are protected by law against the retaliation of their employer. Retaliation includes everything from creating a hostile work environment, to cutting shifts, taking away established benefits, termination, and even "blacklisting" in the industry.
In many cases, the level of protection a whistleblower has depends on where they work. Those who work for the federal government often have a higher level of protection than those who work in private companies.
Federal whistleblower legislation specifically protects those who report violations of the law, waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a danger to public health and safety in a government job. Non-public jobs have varying levels of protections, depending on the state and/or company policy.
If you have reported illegal or unethical behavior at work, or if you want to report but are afraid of the repercussions, consider contacting an experienced employment lawyer. He or she will be able to guide you through the process, identify forms of retaliation, and safeguard your financial and employment interests.