A whistleblower is a person who uses their position to expose corruption or other types of illegal activity. These could include public health risks, safety risks, abuse, financial fraud, waste and much more. Essentially, the person notices that the company or organization is doing something that is illegal or against industry regulations, and they decide to expose the company. That person becomes a whistleblower.
For example, say that you work in the financial department for a major corporation. You notice that the CEO has been transferring funds out of the business’s accounts and into their personal accounts. Perhaps they have set up an automated system to do this and taken steps to cover it up, but you still discover it due to your role with the company. You know that the CEO is embezzling money, which is a clear violation of the law. If you report that activity to the board or even to the authorities, then you are a whistleblower.
Do whistleblowers have any protections?
Yes, whistleblowers definitely have protections. If you have made a genuine report in good faith, then it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you. In the example above, you may worry about losing your job if you report that the CEO is embezzling money. And, while the CEO may have the ability to fire you within that corporate structure, they cannot legally do so if they’re doing it because you are a whistleblower.
It’s also important to remember that retaliation doesn’t always mean being fired. It can also just mean that changes were made to the job that have a negative impact on you. Maybe your hours were cut, even though you’re still employed. Maybe you were denied a promotion. Maybe your pay rate was cut or you were given jobs that no one wanted to do. A company is not just prohibited from firing a whistleblower, but also from intimidating them or retaliating in any other way.
What can you do if this happens?
If you feel that you’re being treated differently than other employees in the wake of whistleblowing activity, that could be a violation of your rights. Be sure you know what legal steps to take at this time. Seeking legal guidance is a good place to start.