What exactly does it mean for an employee to be a “whistleblower?” And when are Cleveland-area “whistleblowers” protected under federal or Ohio employment laws?
When we talk about “whistleblower claims” in Ohio, generally what we are talking about is a type of legal claim known as “retaliation.” There are a variety of anti-retaliation statutes strewn about Ohio and federal law. While there are too many types to list here, there are a few protections for whistleblowers that commonly arise:
- Ohio and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report employment discrimination or who cooperate in an investigation into employment discrimination.
- A variety of laws forbid retaliating against an employee who blows the whistle on a workplace safety violation or on the employer committing a felony.
- The First Amendment protects public employees who report public corruption or abuse of public office.
- The federal False Claims Act prohibits retaliation against employees who report their employers for defrauding the federal government.
- Although not strictly a whistleblower claim, employers are also prohibited from retaliating against an employee who requests leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or who requests a reasonable accommodation under the disability discrimination laws.
There are many other federal and Ohio laws that protect whistleblowers in the workplace. These are just some of the most common fact patterns we see. Significantly, under many anti-retaliation statutes, the employee is protected even if the report ultimately turns out not to be true, as long as it was made in good faith.
Anti-retaliation laws are designed to protect employees who have the courage to report illegal behavior. By prohibiting retaliation against these employees, the laws provide an incentive to come forward. Because of that incentive courts are actually sometimes more receptive to retaliation claims (or “whistleblower claims”) than they are to other types of discrimination claims.
It should be noted that different whistleblower statutes have different procedural requirements, some of which are very, very strict. To best protect your rights you should not go it alone. If you feel you have been retaliated against for reporting inappropriate or illegal behavior at work, contact an experienced Cleveland whistleblower attorney today.