Looked upon as ultimate heroism in Hollywood, whistleblowing could provide one with the exalted public status of an Erin Brokovich or get one demoted and run fearing for one’s life like Kathryn Bolkovac, the Whistleblower for daring to unearth and draw attention to illegal and inhuman acts. Unfortunately, existing legal provisions in the matter are unclear, if not contradictory, as per the U.S. law; while a comprehensive bill is hanging fire.
The protection provided to whistleblowers is covered in different federal and state laws. This makes it a rather challenging task to decide upon the exact escalation route available and to understand what protection is provided; to an employee who refuses to obey an employer’s unlawful directions and called attention to the violations or agreed to help with the enforcement proceedings.
Laws which protect whistleblowers:
The first ever act protecting whistleblowers was enacted in 1986, to cover fraudulent supplies to the government. It not only protected whistleblowers from wrongful dismissal but also promised them a percentage of the recovered money. Subsequently, many federal environment protection laws have been passed to cover the various possible ways in the environment could get vitiated through contamination of air, water, misuse of resources, release of toxic wastes into the atmosphere, use of energy, surface and air transport and corporate fraud. Whistleblowers on financial fraud also receive significant incentives as well as appropriate protection.
Department of Labor – The federal laws concerning the statutes providing protection to whistleblowers regulate many areas of commercial operations are enforced by the DOL.
Military Whistleblowers – A separate act provides the members of the armed services the right to directly communicate any information they may have to any member of Congress.
Sarbanes Oxley Act – Commonly known as SOX, this law provides protection to the employees of publicly traded companies to blow the whistle on actions which they have reason to believe are in violation of:
Dodd-Frank’s Assurance of Confidentiality – It is doubtful whether all whistleblowers would require or merit Arnie’s ‘Eraser’-style protection – but the Dodd-Frank Act goes further than the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to put a very strong confidentiality provision, which allows a whistleblower to report fraud anonymously and file a claim through an attorney. The act protects a whistleblower from retaliation and the whole gamut of possible retaliatory acts like dismissal, demotion, suspension, threats, harassment or discrimination from an employer. An affected employee may sue not just for reinstatement, but also back pay and damages. The act extends the provisions of SOX and brings the employees of private subsidiaries and affiliates of public companies into its scope along with public companies. It contains new protections for employees of companies which offer commercial financial products or services.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – Protects employees of public and private entities who report on gross mismanagement or waste of covered funds; actions threatening public health or safety; and violation of laws or regulations related to the grant of funds.
National Whistleblower Center – NWC:
The NWC offers awareness programs, legal assistance and protection to individuals who wish to speak out against wrongdoings in the workplace without fearing for their safety – in the areas of environmental protection, nuclear safety, government ethics and corporate accountability. When Bunny Greenhouse of the US Army Corps of Engineers was demoted for whistleblowing but won reinstatement along with $1million in damages, through the assistance of NWC, which has managed to win many similar cases.
Notwithstanding all these laws and provisions, there is enormous pressure working against whistleblowers, and many do get intimidated by the power and authority ranged against them in these matters which results in many of them deciding to retreat rather than confront. The fact remains that there are a lot more people prone to be self-serving rather than there are people interested in public service.
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