If you are struggling with whether it’s safe to reveal information about an employer’s unlawful activity, be informed that you are protected under federal and state whistleblower protection laws if you choose to speak up. In this blog, we will explain how you are protected as a whistleblower and what actions you should take for protection.
Whistleblower Protection Laws in Texas
The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) protects federal employees and applicants for employment who lawfully disclose information they reasonably believe evidence the following:
- a violation of law, rule, or regulation;
- gross mismanagement;
- a gross waste of funds;
- an abuse of authority;
- or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Under the WPA, certain federal employees may not take any retaliatory action against you because of your protected whistleblowing. Note that OSHA-approved states may have their own State Plans in response to whistleblower activity. Texas in particular is a state under federal OSHA jurisdiction that also has its own whistleblower protection laws. The Texas Whistleblower Act protects public employees from retaliation by employers, including suspension, termination, or any adverse actions against the employee.
To be protected under the Texas Whistleblower Act, the employee must have subjectively believed that another public employee or a government entity violated the law, and that belief must have been objectively reasonable given all the facts and circumstances. Be aware that the Texas Whistleblower Act only protects the public, and not private, employees, with some exceptions.
If you believe your employer retaliated against you for exercising your rights as an employee under the whistleblower protection laws, you have the right to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA.
Filing a Whistleblower Complaint
A whistleblower complaint must allege these four key elements:
- The employee engaged in activity protected by the whistleblower protection law(s) (such as reporting a violation of the law);
- The employer knew about, or suspected, that the employee engaged in the protected activity;
- The employer took an adverse action against the employee;
- The employee's protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action.
You may file your whistleblower complaint using any of these filing options:
- Online - via the Online Whistleblower Complaint Form through OSHA. Complaints received online from those in States with OSHA-approved State Plans will be forwarded to the appropriate State Plan for a response.
- Fax/Mail/Email – Fax, mail, or email a letter describing your complaint, or a printed copy of your completed Online Whistleblower Complaint Form to your local OSHA Regional or Area Office. Your correspondence must include your name, mailing address, email address, and telephone or fax number so they can follow up.
- Telephone - Call your local OSHA Regional or Area Office to speak with OSHA staff.
- In-person – Visit your local OSHA Regional or Area Office to file physically with OSHA staff.
OSHA may then determine the need for an investigation. During the investigation, OSHA will obtain information from the employer and witnesses as needed. If the evidence supports the employee’s claim of retaliation, OSHA will take action that may include requiring the employer to restore the employee’s job, earnings, and benefits, as well as granting other appropriate relief.
Under the Texas Whistleblower Act, an employee who is wrongfully retaliated against may receive the following four types of relief:
- Injunctive relief (the court will issue a legally enforceable order that compels its subject to do or refrain from specific acts)
- Actual damages (payment for the amount of loss suffered by the employee due to the wrongful retaliation; reinstatement to his or her former position; compensation for wages lost during the period of suspension or termination; and reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights)
- Court costs
- Reasonable attorney fees
Reporting unlawful activity by an employer is a protected activity under the whistleblowing protection laws. Our whistleblower attorneys can help you figure out what specific actions to take as a public or private sector employee seeking protection and relief.
Contact us at Shellist Lazarz Slobin LLP for a consultation!