Doing the right thing. Holding a door for the person behind you. Slowing for pedestrians while driving. Shoveling snow or cutting an elderly neighbor’s grass. These are the types of actions that help define us as good people.
The same holds true while we’re working. If we see an employer doing something that is illegal or compromises the health or safety of the workforce or the general public, we have an obligation to do the right thing and report the behavior in question. After all, our moral compass shouldn’t become confused simply because we’re at work.
Unfortunately, not all illegal or unsafe acts get reported. Employees are aware that their employer may potentially retaliate against them for speaking out about what they’ve observed. They can’t afford to lose their jobs, so they remain silent, despite knowing that keeping quiet is the wrong thing to do. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you reported your employer to the proper authorities for engaging in illegal or unsafe activities, you have federal and Colorado law on your side protecting you. Even though Colorado is an at-will employment state, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees who blow the whistle on their illegal activities. So, if your employer has retaliated against you for whistleblowing, you have the ability to use the law to obtain back pay, regain your lost position, as well as collect other damages.
There are multiple federal statutes that protect whistleblowing employees. In general, these statutes fall into two main groups. The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, administers a number of different laws that apply to workers in specific industries.
As was stated, the Whistleblower Protection Act only applies to federal employees, former federal employees, and federal job applicants who report illegal or unsafe activities conducted by the agency they work for. The law is designed to make the federal civil service more efficient and cost effective through the free reporting of activities that result in the elimination of fraud, waste, abuse, and unnecessary government expenditures.
Reporting is accomplished through contact with the Office of Special Counsel, or OSC, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. The OSC will investigate the claim and if they find it has merit, will report their findings to the head of the federal agency in question for remedial action.
OSHA performs two functions when it comes to whistleblowing:
As Colorado does not have an approved state OSHA plan, OSHA-administered laws only apply to federal employees and private sector employers who have ten or more employees. State employees have to utilize Colorado’s whistleblower statutes.
In issues where an employee has complained about an illegal activity, and the complaint was a contributing or motivating factor in the retaliation, the employee is protected. Retaliatory actions include:
Depending on the federal statute being administered, an employee has between 30 and 180 days after the retaliation to file a written complaint with OSHA. Upon receipt of a complaint, OSHA will conduct an investigation. This investigation must establish the following:
If the evidence revealed by the investigation supports the employee’s allegations, OSHA will attempt to reach a settlement with the employer. If this is not possible, OSHA will issue an order requiring the employer to reinstate the employee, pay back wages, restore benefits, and other possible remedies to make the employee whole.
There are two Colorado laws that protect whistleblowing employees. CO Rev Stat § 24-50.5-103 offers protection to state employees. CO Rev Stat § 24-114-102 offers protection to Colorado employees working in the private sector.
When it comes to public employees, whistleblowing protection is not provided for employees who:
All complaints from public sector employees must be filed within 30 days of the alleged retaliation. This complaint must be filed with the state personnel board. The public employee may only file a civil action if the personnel board denies the complaint.
When it comes to private employees, there are similar exceptions to public employees with one difference – every effort must have been made to report the unsafe or illegal practice to their supervisor or use in-house procedures. Unlike state employees, private sector employees can file a civil lawsuit seeking appropriate damages. Such a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the alleged retaliatory act.
Employment discrimination law is complex, and employers will often make every effort to fight discrimination charges made against them. At Marathon Law, LLC, we use our knowledge of employment discrimination law and our experience in handling employment discrimination cases to get the results that our clients deserve. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation at 303-704-1222, or via our website contact page.