This blog has written frequently on the topic of whistleblowers and whistleblower protection. Both Michigan and the United States government have whistleblower protection laws, but their reach is significantly. Significant changes to the state’s whistleblower protection law are now being considered by the state legislature. The bill is being sponsored by a Republican representative from Midland, and it recently gained the unanimous support of the House Government Operations Committee.
The substance of the bill
The bill, numbered House Bill 5981, is aimed to provide more protection for state workers who report misuse of state funds, violations of state law, or other official misconduct by the state agencies for whom they work. The bill’s sponsor told legislators that many state employees who have knowledge of the types of violations that are the target of her bill often fear to report malfeasance because they fear that they could be fired. The sponsor cited the Flint water crisis and the Unemployment Insurance Agency fraud as examples of the kind of official misconduct that remained unreported because state employees with knowledge of the fraud and other misdeeds were intimidated by their superiors.
A major feature of the bill is the creation of an official State Employee Ombudsman to receive and pursue whistleblower complaints while protecting the identity of the reporting employees. The Ombudsman would be charged with reporting the alleged violations to the appropriate administrative or law enforcement agencies.
The bill’s sponsor said that the amount of money saved by enacting the bill would easily outweigh the costs of establishing and supporting the ombudsman’s office.
While the fate of the House Bill No. 5981 won’t be known until the state senate reviews the bill and votes on it, the current law prohibits companies from punishing or sanctioning anyone who reports a violation. A lawyer with experience in representing whistleblowers can help an employee understand and report a potential crime while maximizing the law’s protection.