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A whistleblower is an employee who reports a violation of the law by his or her employer. The federal government and many states have laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation; in addition, most states recognize a common-law claim against an employer who takes action against an employee after he or she has reported a violation of law. Other laws protect individuals who blow the whistle on companies who have contracted with the federal or state governments for misconduct in spending federal funds.
Many federal and state laws also contain anti-retaliation provisions for reporting violations of their provisions, which in effect provides whistleblower protection from adverse actions in the workplace for such reports. In the case of many discrimination laws, an employee is protected even when he or she is not the alleged victim of discrimination.
There are too many federal laws containing a whistleblowing or anti-retaliation provision to detail here. Some examples in the federal sphere include the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, the Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act of 2002 (Title VII of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act), the Energy Reorganization Act (which provides protections to employees of nuclear power plants), the False Claims Act, and many of the environmental protection laws. In order to be protected by these laws, an employee must have a good-faith belief that the employer violated a well-defined and valid law, and must complain either to the employer or to an appropriate federal agency or officer about the apparent violation. The employee is then protected even if the employer from retaliation is ultimately found to be in compliance.
Employees are also protected in most states by general statutes or common law barring discrimination or retaliation against whistleblowers. In order to qualify for this protection, an employee generally must, as under federal law, have a good-faith belief that the employer or its employees are in some way violating the law, and must either complain about that violation to the employer or to an outside agency, refuse to participate in the violation, or assist in an official investigation of the violation. An increasing number of states are enacting whistleblower statutes to protecting those who report the misconduct of state employees or officials, health care fraud or abuse, or companies that spend state funds.
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