Every individual, as well as human resource professional, should be aware of the relevant state and federal laws that protect those people who come forward to report unethical behavior, fraud or illegal actions on the part of an employer. These people who share critical information that aids in a government investigation, may be referred to as whistleblowers and whistleblowers are afforded particular protections under both state and federal laws.
Human resources managers should be aware of what to do with information that is reported by a whistleblower as they could be named in an ongoing case if the whistleblower attempted to make a supervisor in the human resources department aware of an issue and no further action was taken. In addition, a human resources manager would be well advised to understand all the various implications of a whistleblower’s protected rights.
Many employees may investigate their own rights and determine that they have been discriminated against or subjected to other illegal behaviors that could form the basis of their own lawsuit directly against the company. An experienced human resources manager will have documented procedures and guidelines for how to handle these particular situations.
A whistleblower is an employee of an organization who reports another employee or group of employees for something that is believed to be dishonest, illegal or wrong. Even if this information is ultimately harmful to the company’s bottom line or the executives, there can be no retaliation against a whistleblower because of the laws that are in place, assigning steep penalties to a company that engages in whistleblower retaliation.
If the employee chooses to come forward with a lawsuit about whistleblower retaliation and has ample evidence showing that the employer took steps to discriminate against that employee because of his or her decision to report fraud or illegal behavior, the consequences for the company can be significant. It is essential for every company to be mindful of the whistleblower laws and to develop human resources procedures surrounding whistleblowing.
Whistleblower suits can be very complex because depending on the allegations put forth by the person with internal knowledge, government authorities can make the decision to get involved in the case. The government always has the option to step into a case, but in some situations, they may decline the opportunity to pursue one. If the government is involved in a case under the False Claims Act, the whistleblower may be entitled to some portion of the reward. If the government opts not to participate in the case, the whistleblower may still continue on their own if they believe that fraud has occurred. These complex elements highlight the importance of whistleblower protections.
What HR Managers Need to Know About the Sarbanes-Oxley Act Of 2002?
The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in order to address the corruption that had taken place in the government and across the country during that time. The primary purpose of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was to address critical wrongdoings, such as fraud, although there are provisions within that address whistleblowing.
Anyone who brings forward genuine information in an attempt to curb crimes or other dishonest acts is afforded necessary protections so long as they have a reasonable suspicion that the acts indeed occur. If an employee complains about illegal acts carried out by an employer, like fraud, then that employee is protected from retaliation. Even if the allegations are wrong, the employee is still eligible to receive those protections as long as they had good faith to believe that fraud was indeed happening.
There is no need to worry about penalties or countersuits due to coming forward with erroneous information as the law tends to be lenient towards whistleblowers who did have a reasonable suspicion that fraud was occurring. These whistleblower complaints can be made to an employee’s supervisor, a law enforcement agency, or a government representative. All of the same protections still stand.
Various Other Whistleblower Laws
Other whistleblower laws may be in place, depending on the individual industry. For example, there are whistleblower protections afforded to those working in the financial industry. Retaliatory measures, however, such as being harassed or being fired are all prohibited by these laws. There are laws specifically for employees of an industry who make complaints about that industry.
In addition, state whistleblower laws may apply and afford additional protections. There are a number of different states that have their own laws on the books about whistleblowers, whether it relates to a violation of wage laws, family and medical leave protections, jury duty or discrimination.
These laws are generally mentioned in conjunction with federal laws that are designed to give clear protection to whistleblowers who are coming forward with relevant information. Many states have specific provisions that allow employees to sue or fight back when they were wrongfully penalized or fired in violation of public policy.
Every state will have a different interpretation about these alleged violations of coming forward under public policy and it is important for a whistleblower as well as the human resources manager to know what to do. Finally, a human resources manager should be informed of how to handle a situation in which an employee comes forward directly to someone in the human resources department about the alleged indications of fraud.
A proper investigation procedure can help to shield the company from further allegations of wrongdoing. In the event that the whistleblower case ultimately develops into a government investigation or other circumstance, the human resources department should have thoroughly documented information about how the complaint was handled when initially brought forward by the whistleblower and the company’s overall procedures designed to minimize instances of retaliation.
These can present unique legal and technical concerns for any company as a whistleblower can come forward to report fraud in practically every industry if they can illustrate that the employer or another person at the company was involved in a legal or fraudulent behavior. This is a complex network of state and federal regulations and it is important for human resources manager to understand the possible exposure to issues associated with these concerns.