Whistleblowers play an important role in internal oversight of the workplace by calling out illegal or unethical behavior. They are federally protected from retaliation and “adverse actions,” or moves by their employer designed to discourage whistleblowing and make it hard for them to continue working.
It is illegal for workplaces to engage in any adverse actions against a whistleblower. The definition of adverse action is broad and includes anything from termination down to reassignment to a less desirable task or reduced hours. Just about any action that makes the whistleblower have a worse experience at work can be an adverse and retaliatory action. Some of them might be monetary and affect pay or hours, but others can simply create a difficult or unwelcome workplace through the influence of the manager’s direct or indirect actions.
Even something as simple as blocking an employee from taking PTO or switching shifts after a whistleblowing incident is an adverse action. Retaliation by employers is a serious offense. Such actions are designed to punish whistleblowers and discourage future whistleblowers, allowing the employer to continue to engage in unsafe or illegal actions at work.
Protection for whistleblowers
At both the federal and the state level, retaliating against whistleblowers is illegal. This means whistleblowers have a high degree of protection from their employers, so they should carefully document any potential adverse actions or retaliation attempts after they become a whistleblower. This is especially true when the employer knows exactly who the whistleblower is and what they reported to the authorities about them. If an employee faces retaliation, they may want to explore their legal options.