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How are whistleblowers protected?

Whistleblowers -- employees that report unsafe or illegal activity within their companies -- are protected by a number of federal and state laws. The Occupations Safety and Health Administration has a Whistleblower Protection Program that enforces over 20 federal statutes that protect those who make such reports.

OSHA's program protects those who report issues of workplace safety, environmental or financial reform, and issues in a number of industries, including securities, maritime and railroad and commercial transportation. One of the main components of these statues is that whistleblowers are generally protected from retaliation in the workplace because of their reports to legal or regulatory bodies.

Under the protections, an employer cannot retaliate against an employer with adverse actions that include firing or laying off the employee. The employer also cannot demote, fail to rehire or hire, or reduce either hours or pay for a worker based solely or in part on his or her report. Note that the protection does not stop an employer from making legitimate human resource decisions based on worker performance or business needs.

Other protections afforded whistleblowers include protection from intimidation, harassment, blacklisting and denial of benefits, promotion or overtime. Companies cannot retaliate by disciplining a worker, making threats against a worker or reassigning a worker so his or her prospects of bonuses, promotion or a raise are reduced.

In short, if you make an honest effort to report an issue of safety or illegal activity within a company, the company cannot act against you with respect to your job, your benefits, your pay or your security. Unfortunately, actions from companies can be clouded by other information and there are many gray areas, which result in whistleblowers sometimes fighting to protect their own rights through legal channels.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "Protection from Workplace Retaliation," accessed Nov. 13, 2015

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