Most people in Michigan have no doubt heard news stories discussing whistleblowers recently. While these stories may center around activity related to the White House and the federal government, a whistleblower may be related to activities in the private sector and in local areas as well. The concept of a whistleblower involves a person willing to call out inappropriate behaviors, actions or plans. A whistleblower may choose to remain anonymous. Federal laws protect people who uncover unscrupulous actions or people before, during and after their effort to make these things known.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law recognizes several specific actions as protected against legal action in an effort to facilitate whistleblowers’ efforts. For example, a person can legally refuse to follow instructions provided by an employer if doing so would result in discrimination or harassment of another party. Acting as a witness to or filing any investigation, lawsuit or claim with the EEOC regarding harassment or discrimination is also a protected activity.
Most people assume that asking colleagues about their salaries or wages is not appropriate but, if the line of questioning is conducted with the intent of potentially exposing discriminatory practices on the part of the employer, the action is protected by law.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration administers the Whistleblower Protection Program which is designed to protect employees against negative and retaliatory actions from their employer should they engage in a whistleblower activity. Retaliation may take many forms including a reduction in hours or wages, job transfer, firing, official discipline, the withholding of benefits, and more.