Does Reporting Unsafe Work Conditions Make you a Whistleblower?
The policy of the Office of Research Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Division of Occupational Health and Safety is to provide safe and healthful workplaces for all workers. Anyone who believes that his/her working conditions are affected by an unsafe or unhealthful workplace is encouraged to make a written or oral report of the condition to the Division of Occupational Health and Safety, or contact a Lake County workers compensation lawyer in the state of Illinois.
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According to federal laws, workers who report unsafe or unhealthful workplace conditionswill not be subject to any type of interference, restraint, discrimination, coercion, or reprisal by the company, other workers, or outside agencies. Reports may be submitted in person or anonymously.
What is a Whistleblower?
By definition, a whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed unethical, illegal, or not correct within a a public or private company or organization. Alleged wrongdoing can be classified as fraud; corruption; violation of company rules, policies, laws or regulations; or threat to national security or public interest. A whistleblower can report allegations to people within the company or organization, or to an outside third party like a Lake County workers compensation lawyer. A whistleblower can also contact government officials, law enforcement, and the media if he/she chooses to do so.
Whistleblowers often face fear of reprisal or retaliation from those accused of alleged wrongdoing, but the whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA safety regulations offer protection. OSHA protections provide provisions that contain whistleblower anti-retaliation laws. Protection from workplace retaliation means that an employer cannot take any adverse action towards a whistleblower such as: Blacklisting; Demoting; Denying overtime or promotion; Disciplining; Denial of benefits; Failure to hire or rehire; Firing or laying off; Intimidation or harassment; Making threats; Reassignment; and Reducing pay or work hours. OSHA requires that complaints of any retaliation be filed within 30 days after the alleged retaliation. OSHA conducts an interview with each complainant to determine the need for an investigation. If evidence supports the worker’s claim, OSHA will ask the employer to restore the worker’s job, earnings and benefits.Whistleblower statutes enforced by OSHA are designated by various categories that encompass safety standards in the workplace.
Private Sector Whistleblowing
Private corporations usually have stricter regulations that suppress potential whistleblowers. In the private sector, corporations can hide wrongdoings within different company levels much easier than in the public sector. Wrongdoings are seldom brought to attention until they affect top-level company officials. Private sector wrongdoings typically include violations of company policies and regulations like theft, money laundering, fraud, corruption, discriminatory practices, and sexual harassment. Private sector violations are often reported to someone in a higher position within the company or to an outside third party such as a Lake County workers compensation lawyer in Illinois cases. Whistleblowing in the private sector is typically not as high profile or discussed as openly as whistleblowing in the public sector where violations affect human rights and safety on a much larger scale.
Public Sector Whistleblowing
Over the last 50 years, the U.S. has put state and federal statutes in place that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that whistleblowers in the public sector are protected under First Amendment rights. Federal whistleblower legislation includes a statute that protects all government employees. Illinois federal employees can consult a Lake County workers compensation lawyer for advice. In the Federal Civil Service, the government is prohibited from taking, or threatening to take, any action against an employee for disclosing information that he/she believed to be:
- A violation of a state or federal law
- Gross mismanagement of funds
- Abuse of authority
- Substantial danger to public health
- Substantial danger to public safety
While there are laws in place to protect whistleblowers, many employees fear for their jobs due to direct or indirect threats from their employers or other involved parties. As a result, many employees who feel compelled to report workplace violations, simply don’t. They may wait to tell someone in a higher position of power or just drop the issue all together. The employee must often weigh their options based on fear vs moral principles. In Illinois cases, workers are encouraged to consult a Lake County workers compensation lawyer who understands specific whistleblower protection statutes.
In the United States, legal protections vary according to the subject matter of the whistleblowing, but a wide variety of state and federal laws protect whistleblowers who report workplace violations. Whistleblower investigations of retaliation fall under 20 different federal statutes under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).