A former Baltimore detective who faced illegal retaliation from his fellow police officers settled his lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department. Joseph Crystal testified against two police officers who he witnessed assaulting a suspect during an arrest. Under the law, all employees who report illegal conduct by their co-workers or by their employer are protected against retaliation.
The United States Supreme Court handed down an important employment law ruling last week that extends whistleblower protection to a broader range of employees. Previously whistleblower laws only protected employees at publicly traded companies under the theory that the public has the most to gain from exposing fraud and wrongdoing that impacts the interests of public shareholders. Under the new ruling, employees who work at companies that work as subcontractors for publicly traded companies will also have protections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was created in 2002 after Enron and other corporate misconduct scandals impacted millions of innocent shareholders.
For the average reader who has never had a serious ethical concern about their employer’s activities, it probably seems clear-cut that it is right to report something that is unethical or illegal. However, when faced with a real-life decision the issues can become fuzzier as employees try to balance doing what they think is right with keeping their jobs, providing for their families, and maintaining a good reputation.
When employees report the illegal or fraudulent activities of their employers, they are protected by law from being retaliated against at work. This generally means that the employee, the whistle-blower, cannot be fired or subjected to a discriminatory or hostile work environment due to the complaint. However, whistle-blowers are often retaliated against and in these cases they can seek legal recourse, including compensation for their losses as well as job reinstatement.
In Maryland, the D.C. area and throughout the U.S., employers may not fire workers in retaliation for taking advantage of state or federal laws, or for protecting their rights in the workplace. This means an employer cannot fire an employee who is cooperating with an investigation by licensed authorities or one who supports a co-worker's sexual harassment complaint or has reported illegal practices of the company.
It is sad but true that not all employers act in the best interests of their customers, employees or even the environment. It takes courage for an employee to "blow the whistle" on any illegal activity that their employer participates in, because not all employers are receptive to their bad behavior being reported to a federal agency. In fact, many whistleblowers are wrongfully terminated for their good conscience, which is why the law protects those who take the high road.