What is whistleblowing? While the definition of whistleblower varies depending on the statue being cited, the term generally describes an employee who reports an employer for violations of laws or regulations. To give a little more detail we can look at one commonly cited definition of whistleblower, found in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act): “No person shall discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding or because of the exercise of such employee on the behalf of himself, herself, or others of any right afforded under this Act.” What are the possible sources of whistleblower protection? There are various sources a whistleblowing employee may turn to in seeking protection against employer retaliation. These sources include: federal statutes state statutes retaliatory discharge claims based on state common law exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. When it comes to federal and state statutory protection, whistleblower protection for employees may result from general whistleblower laws or topic-/industry-specific statutes that cover whistleblowing. These topic- and industry-specific statutes may provide protection to certain employees who report employer actions that violate the particular statute. However, not all state and federal statutes contain whistleblower provisions. What protections are there for whistleblowers under federal law? There are several federal protections for employees who decide to report their employers. Additionally, many states have their own laws to protect whistleblowers – employers should check with their Department of Labor for more information. The Occupation Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act protects employees from discrimination for filing an OSHA complaint. Further testimony in an OSHA proceeding (including inspections) are protected, as are safety complaints to an employee’s employer. An employee alleging a violation of Section 11(c) of OSHA may file a complaint with the Director of OSHA within 30 days of the alleged violation – unless there is a basis to equitably toll the 30-day requirement. Sarbanes-Oxley Employees of publicly traded companies are protected by whistleblowing provisions of Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act from retaliation for: filing complaints providing information testifying regarding employer conduct the employee reasonably believes violates: mail, bank, wire or securities laws or any rule of the Securities and Exchange Commission or any federal law relating to frauds against shareholders. False Claims Act The False Claims Act protects employees reporting on their employers and/or others who are defrauding government programs. Complaining parties are entitled under a qui tam provision, which allows individuals to sue on the government’s behalf and be entitled to a percentage of any recovered damages. Actions are brought in federal court. How can employers avoid whistleblower claims? Employees may find protection from employer retaliation from a variety of sources. To prevent whistleblower claims, employers should familiarize themselves with the laws that apply to their particular operations, including state and federal statutes and any applicable anti-retaliation provisions. Employers should also consider implementing procedures to address employee reports of co-worker or employer wrongdoing. Examples of such procedures include established methods to govern investigations and/or how to implement corrective measures. In addition, employers should remember the main purposes behind whistleblower laws are: to protect employees who engage in good-faith reporting of employer wrongdoing and to encourage employee reporting of employer wrongdoing. When dealing with whistleblowers, employers should remember the purpose of whistleblower laws and the protections they potentially afford to employees.