Whistleblower laws are put in place to protect employees from
retaliation by their employers for reporting to the proper authorities
anything that violates state or federal law. Whistleblower laws
also legislate to stop employers retaliating against employees
who will not (1) take part in activities that these laws define
as unlawful, or (2) take part in any legal proceedings under the
This is to protect employees against intimidation through harassment
or threats of discharge from employment. Those who are subjected
to such treatment can generally sue for damages under the whistleblower
"Qui tam" is a mechanism contained within the False
Claims Act that allows anyone who knows of fraud against the government
to sue on the government's behalf, to recover whatever has been
fraudulently obtained. A citizen who does this is known as a relator
and they can be awarded a percentage of the value of the recovered
funds, usually from 15 to 25 per cent. This gives a strong incentive
to citizens to help the government in fighting fraud against taxpayers.
The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, also known as SOX, is a law that
protects corporate whistleblowers and it was brought in following
some of the big corporate scandals, such as those at Enron and
WorldCom. It helps employees to report any violations of Securities
and Exchange Commission regulations, or breaking of laws in relation
to defrauding shareholders.
The law says that an employee may not be discharged, demoted,
suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other way discriminated
against. If this occurs, then the employee is entitled to remedies,
including full reinstatement, back pay with interest and compensation
Whistleblower laws are included in the Occupational Safety and
Health Act, which safeguards against retaliation by employers
or others for complaining about unsafe working conditions or practices.
This and other similar laws also apply to reporting of safety
hazards in public places.
Several laws relating to public environmental health include,
for obvious reasons, protection for whistleblowers. These began
in 1972 with the Water Pollution Control Act, which also came
to be known as the Clean Water Act. The Safe Drinking Water Act
of 1974 and the Solid Waste Disposal Act, 1976 also included provision
for the protection of informants. Several other laws, covering
toxic substances, clean air, the protection of truck drivers,
and nuclear whistleblowers, have been enacted over recent years.
Complaints about, and the investigation of retaliation are the
responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA)of the United States Department of Labor, in particular,
the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program.
Where things are not so clear cut and consistent in this area
is the time that a complainant has to report any instances of
retaliation. This means that the person who feels victimized needs
to be aware of the time limits for their particular situation.
Some authorities require reporting action to be taken in as little
as ten days, as is the case with Arizona State employees, whereas,
some private sector employees have up to three hundred days to
register their complaint.
The need for whistleblower laws is undeniable and it was recognized
in the U. S. as far back as the Civil War, when employees were
encouraged to blow the whistle on fraudulent suppliers to the
military, who, for example were known to substitute sawdust for
gunpowder in supplies to the Union army. Nowadays, even military
personnel have the protection of whistleblower laws if they see
illegal activities taking place.