Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
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April 21, 2009
• Practice Areas • Whistleblowers
Employees who become aware that their employers are engaged in illegal or dangerous activity often find themselves "between a rock and a hard place." Do they "look the other way" even though others may be harmed? Or do they risk losing their jobs-or suffering other consequences-by reporting the activity, either to the employer itself or to law-enforcement officials?
Various federal and state laws aim to ease this predicament. Although the available protections vary widely depending on the type of employer and the nature of its conduct, employees can often take advantage of "anti-retaliation" provisions customarily found in these laws.
Federal Whistleblower Laws
Federal law often affords protection to employees who report or complain about employer activities. The False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. §§ 3729), for instance, imposes liability on persons and companies who defraud the federal government, and offers various incentives and protections to those who discover and report it.
The set of laws customarily known as "Title VII," moreover, while not generally thought of as providing "whistleblower" protection, prohibit employers (and supervisors) from retaliating against employees who complain about or report gender discrimination, race discrimination, or various other forms of discrimination.
More specific federal laws protect whistleblowers in certain industries. For example, The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act (AIR21), which is designed to improve airline safety, extends federal whistleblower protections to the employees of air carriers and their contractors and subcontractors. Under AIR21′s whistleblower-protection provisions (49 U.S.C. § 42121), employees can disclose aviation hazards without fear of reprisal. Employees in various other regulated industries enjoy similar protections.
Ohio Whistleblower Protection
Ohio Revised Code § 4113.52 is an example of a law designed to give some degree of comfort to whistleblowers. Unfortunately it is drawn very narrowly and, at least on its face, appears not to protect large numbers of deserving whistleblowers. To meet the statute's conditions, an employee must, first of all, "reasonably believe" that the employer's conduct constitutes either a felony or "a criminal offense that is likely to cause an imminent risk of physical harm to persons or a hazard to public health or safety," and that the employer "has authority to correct" the violation. The employee must also report the conduct both orally and in writing to a supervisor. If the employer fails to take corrective action, the employee may report the conduct to the appropriate public or law-enforcement official. But assuming the employee can meet all these conditions, he or she receives protection from any resulting disciplinary or retaliatory actions.
Other Ohio statutes seek to prevent employer conduct that, while not illegal or dangerous, is nonetheless discriminatory or retaliatory. Ohio civil-rights laws, codified at Ohio Revised Code §§ 4112 et seq., for example, not only protect persons from an employer's discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry," but also prohibit an employer's retaliation against those who oppose or report such discrimination.
An employee may, for various reasons, fail to qualify for protection under any specific state or federal statute. Or the employer's conduct, while objectionable, may not technically be illegal or "actionable." Nevertheless, certain courts, including the Ohio Supreme Court, have made it clear that, if an employer's discharge of, or other retaliation against, an employee violates a clearly established "public policy," the employee make seek redress in court.
Contact The Chandra Law Firm LLC For Help
Despite the "hoops" employees often must jump through to present whistleblower claims, lawyers at The Chandra Law Firm LLP have successfully represented numerous whistleblowers. When dealing with technical laws and stubborn employer-defendants, there is no substitute for the creativity and tenacity Chandra Law lawyers bring to every representation. You can reach our firm, which serves clients throughout Ohio, by calling 216-578-1700 or by filling out our online contact form.
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