Whistleblowing is when an employee informs state or federal authorities about certain conduct that is illicit or unlawful. Given the obvious disinclination of most employers to be caught engaged in inappropriate conduct, becoming a whistleblower (also called a relator) has its risks. However, there are laws to protect relators from any form of retaliation, so if someone is fired or otherwise unjustly disciplined for informing on the company, they may be able to seek compensation. In this post, we’ll discuss whistleblower retaliation cases and your rights.
Whistleblowers Are Important
Whistleblowers or relators serve an important public function, especially when the alleged offending entity is a public corporation or government agency. Ensuring that there is proper oversight of corporations and agencies that serve the public saves taxpayer money and may prevent greater crimes in the future. However, since the stakes can be quite high in such matters, employees who blow the figurative whistle do face punitive actions in many situations. This is against public policy, however. In other words, it serves the general good to have ordinary employees act as whistleblowers.
There are both federal and state whistleblower protection statutes available to those in South Carolina. The state statute explicitly holds that no retaliatory action may be taken against anyone who “files a report, with the appropriate authority, of wrongdoing.” If any such action is taken, the statute also explicitly preserves the employee’s right to bring suit to seek compensation and possible reinstatement, depending on the specific nature of the situation.
Federal Statutes Are Similar Yet Different
The federal statute pertaining to qui tam or whistleblower protection explicitly deals with fraud against the government, so the scope of behavior dealt with under its aegis may be slightly more narrow than with a state law. Also, no explicit right to sue for retaliation is preserved in the federal False Claims Act. However, many do, filing claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and waiting to see if the agency will join in their claim. Retaliation claims are among the most commonly filed with the EEOC, with approximately 42,000 filed in 2016 (the most recent available data).
One similarity between the two laws is that both award the relator a percentage of any public money saved—usually either 25 percent or $2,000, whichever is lower—as a sort of reward for speaking up against wrongdoing. While this is not an enormous payday, be advised that it does increase the stakes. In South Carolina, as well as some other states, an employee who files a report of wrongdoing that turns out to not be in good faith (that is, deliberately erroneous or recklessly misleading or defamatory) may wind up on the receiving end of disciplinary action such as termination. In such situations, there is no recourse available to the employee.
Contact An Experienced Employment Law Attorney
Deciding whether or not to blow the whistle on your employer can be a terrifying experience. Having someone able to advise you on the law can make all the difference. Attorney A. Christopher Potts is an experienced employment law attorney who will work hard to answer any questions you may have. Contact our Charleston law firm today to set up an appointment.