Protections against whistleblower retaliation ensure that employees can come forward, report misconduct or criminal activity, and feel protected against reprisal by their employer. If you have observed or witnessed illegal conduct or you have been asked to participate in unlawful activities by an employer, you have protections under Minnesota laws. Our experienced lawyers can provide you with legal counsel before you report misconduct or if you have already reported misconduct and you have suffered from retaliation by an employer.
The Minnesota Whistleblower Act protects employees from whistleblower retaliation by their employer if they report or refuse to engage in illegal conduct. The Whistleblower Act protects all employees in Minnesota and applies to all employers with one or more employees. While some state laws only protect public employees, Minnesota’s whistleblower laws extend to both private and public employees. In addition to damages for lost wages or other financial losses due to retaliation, employees may also seek injunctive relief to get reinstated.
Where can a whistleblower report misconduct?
An employee who “blows the whistle” can contact proper authorities including the employer, state or federal authorities, OSHA, the EPA, or any responsible state or federal agency. A whistleblower who seeks to report misconduct is protected by state whistleblower laws to prevent retaliation.
Whistleblower Retaliation Protection in Minnesota
The Minnesota Whistleblower Act prohibits termination, discrimination or other adverse actions toward an employee when:
- the employee has in good faith reported a violation or suspected violation of any federal or state law, statute, rule or regulation;
- the employee is requested to participate in an investigation, hearing or inquiry; or
- the employee refuses the employer’s order to perform an act that the employee has an objective basis in fact to believe violates any federal or state law, rule or regulation.
There are many ways that a business operation could be in violation of the law. Discrimination in hiring practices, tax fraud, or other criminal activity that occurs behind the scenes could be hurting employees, consumers, or defrauding the government. Any employee who witnesses illegal misconduct by an employer has the right to report that misconduct without the fear of retaliation. Whistleblower protection laws ensure that employees feel safe to come forward and report misconduct without the fear of retaliation or other adverse actions, including:
- Wrongful termination
- Demotion or transfer
- Denial of overtime or promotion
- Disciplinary actions
- Denial of benefits
- Failure to hire or rehire
- Intimidation or harassment
- Reassignment affecting promotion prospects
- Reducing pay or hours
Whistleblower Retaliation Protection for Health Care Employees
The Minnesota Whistleblower Act also has a specific protection for employees of health care providers and facilities. These health care employees are protected for reporting situations where the public health is at risk because of a quality of care level that is below the standards set by law or by a professionally recognized national, clinical or ethical standard. Whistleblowers are necessary in the health care industry to call out doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals that put patients at risk.
Whistleblower Protection for Violation of Public Policy
Beyond the protections afforded to employees under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, common law in Minnesota also protects employees who are terminated by an employer for a reason that contravenes a clear mandate of public policy. This means that an employee may bring a claim for wrongful termination when the motivation for their firing violates public policy. For example, an employee could contact the Environmental Protection Agency if he or she learned that an employer company was planning to dump toxic waste in a local water shed. Any misconduct that goes against public health and safety or other laws can be reported with whistleblower protection.
Other Whistleblower Retaliation Protection Statutes
There are other laws besides common law and the Minnesota Whistleblower Act that protect employees from retaliation. Under federal law, there are three important protections for employees:
- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) is a federal law that guards against retaliation for employees who are whistleblowers who are employed by a publicly traded company or by a contractor or subsidiary of such a company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in by Congress in 2002 to reduce corporate fraud and protects whistleblowers when they report fraudulent or illegal activities at their employer.
- The False Claims Act (“FCA”) also protects employees who report fraud and experience retaliation from their employer. Specifically, the False Claims Act and the Minnesota False Claims Act provide rewards for those whistleblowers providing information about fraud that is being committed against the government. This type of fraud against the government can occur in a variety of industries – from the fraudulent medical billing to public works projects – and employees who report the illegal practices have protection from retaliation.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) protects employees from retaliation after they have exercised their rights under the Act, such as participation in safety and health activities (complaining to OSHA or seeking an OSHA inspection), participation in an OSHA proceeding, or reporting a work-related illness or injury.
Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers
The attorneys at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP have litigated and tried countless whistleblower cases under Minnesota laws. If you believe you have been subject to retaliation after blowing the whistle, it is important that you contact one of our experienced employment lawyers to discuss how to protect your employment rights. Contact us for a free initial consultation.