You find out that there are not enough fire extinguishers at work, and boxes are piled in front of a fire escape. You are concerned about your safety and the safety of your co-workers if there is a fire. So, you ask your employer to fix the problem.
However, your employer does not see the issue and refuses to fix the fire hazards. You feel compelled to notify the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in hopes that they can order your employer to follow legal requirements and make your workplace safe.
After you made your report to OSHA, things at work become significantly worse. You find you are being given less favorable assignments compared with colleagues who work in similar positions. After a time, you are demoted and eventually fired.
You suspect this is all because you made that report to OSHA. It does not seem fair that your employer treated you like that, but is it illegal?
Federal law protects whistleblowers
Sometimes, an employee has a good reason for reporting employer misconduct to the appropriate state or federal agency. This employee is referred to as a “whistleblower.”
Federal law protects whistleblowers from employer retaliation. Retaliation takes place when your employer takes an adverse employment action against you for taking part in protected activity, such as reporting employer misconduct to the appropriate agency.
Some examples of adverse employment actions include:
- Denying an employee overtime
- Unjustifiably disciplining an employee
- Denying an employee workplace benefits
- Threatening, intimidating or harassing an employee
- Pay reductions or hour reductions
Ultimately, an adverse employment action is anything that would have a chilling effect on employees who may want to report possible violations of the law. Adverse employment actions are also meant to punish employees who have exercised their legal right to report employer misconduct.
If you think your employer retaliated against you because you blew the whistle, you can file a complaint with the agency at issue. The agency will interview you and possibly investigate your employer. If the agency believes you were illegally retaliated against, your job and rights as an employee will be restored.