Filing an action against an employer’s whistleblower retaliation

| Jan 3, 2020 | Firm News |

Michigan law prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who reports to a law enforcement agency the details of unethical or illegal practices taking place inside of a company. More commonly known as a “whistleblower,” an individual providing authorities with information about his or her employer’s alleged wrongdoing has the right to do so without the fear of punishment.

Under the Wolverine State’s 1980 Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, an employer may not discriminate, threaten or terminate a worker as an act of reprisal for reporting unlawful activities at his or her workplace. An employee who experiences an adverse action after doing so may file a legal action against the employer for damages, as noted by The Detroit News. An employee only has, however, 90 days from the date that a retaliatory action occurred to file a claim.

Michigan’s WPA protects all employees, including those at the executive level. The top sales executive for one of the largest multinational auto manufacturers filed a lawsuit against his employer for violating the Act. After cooperating with the Securities Exchange Commission in its probe of the company unlawfully providing inflated sales information to its shareholders, the employer withheld approximately 90% of the sales executive’s pay package, as reported by CNN.

While the company did not terminate the employee after he provided his testimony to the SEC, withholding part of his compensation as punishment for his role as a whistleblower is against the law.

In order to succeed in a retaliation lawsuit such as the one filed against the auto company, the court needs to see a connection between the company’s management withholding the whistleblower’s pay and the employee’s cooperation with the SEC. The court may then assign liability to the employer for back pay and emotional distress in addition to any punitive damages a jury may decide upon.