While loyalty to one’s employer is important, upholding the law is more so. If you wind up in a position where you believe your employer is acting in a manner inconsistent with the relevant law, you may choose to ‘blow the whistle’ for a variety of reasons. If you do, it is a good idea to be absolutely certain about what you are doing. Whistleblowing at work can be a highly complex situation.
Internal vs. External Whistleblowing
Despite the frequent media discussion of high-profile whistleblowing cases like Edward Snowden’s or Chelsea Manning’s, the bulk of all whistleblowing actually occurs in the private sector, often internally (that is, reporting employees to the Human Resources department or other disciplinary body within your company). Internal problems of this nature are more often dealt with because internal complaint or disciplinary mechanisms are more likely to be confidential. Most humans avoid confrontation if possible; the threat of the reported person finding out is a strong deterrent against whistleblowing for many.
External whistleblowing, by comparison, is more likely to result in attention and heightened scrutiny. It is very commonly carried out over government contracts (or lack thereof). In these cases involving potential government fraud, as well, the relator (whistleblower) may receive a share of the proverbial spoils. Federal qui tam actions are those cases in which a certain percentage of the proceeds automatically go to the relator, for instance. The rationale behind them is that funds which are essentially taxpayer money should return to the general economy, rather than being impounded or otherwise restricted.
Protection Against Whistleblower Retaliation
There are multiple laws that protect whistleblowers, primarily at the federal level, but states have their own as well. South Carolina’s whistleblower statutes protect both public and private employees, laying out remedies that can be pursued for each class of employee. For example, private employees who may have a case of wrongful termination may be able to file a complaint with the state’s Bureau of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (BLLR), which may lead to a civil suit if the Bureau determines that there is a case.
For public employees, the relevant law is different, because South Carolina’s regulation specifically discusses misuse of public funds and/or embezzlement of funds and resources. It restricts punitive actions against any employee who makes a report in good faith (though it does provide for penalties for reports made in bad faith), and also provides for a reward for the whistleblower if enough taxpayer funds are recovered. Public employees also have the option, if their qui tam suit is unsuccessful, to bring a nonjury civil action alleging wrongful termination and damages for any related cause of action.
Seek Experienced Legal Help
The decision to blow the whistle on your employer is not one that many employees take lightly. Consulting a knowledgeable attorney in such a situation can be absolutely critical. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston employment law firm have deep experience in this area of law.
Contact us today to set up an initial appointment.