Whistleblowing, or reporting incorrect behavior about a company/organization, is risky business. One of the main concerns people have when deciding if they should speak is the fear that the employer will retaliate by demoting, harassing or firing them.
Oregon protects whistleblowers via state law, in addition to federal whistleblower laws. That being said, employers may still try to retaliate against you, despite the fact that you are legally protected. It’s important to know your rights, what you can report, and how to handle these ethically-challenging situations.
Activity that can be reported:
In the most basic terms, someone can expose a company for illegal or unethical practices. More specifically, this means activity such as:
• Breaking the law
• Breaking regulation
• Abusing authority
• Gross mismanagement
• Gross wasting of funds
• Posing risks to health or safety
What action can be taken:
Whether the company is private or public affects what you can report. If you work in the private sector, you are only protected for reporting violations of the law or regulations. These activities, or the ones listed above for public sector employees, can warrant civil action.
When an employer has violated a law or regulation regarding health and safety, both public and private sector employees are completely protected. In the case of a health and safety violation, you can file a complaint with BOLI in addition to filing civil action. All illegal and unethical behavior should be reported quickly, as there is a time limit to when you can bring the activity forward after it has occurred, but health and safety violations are especially serious.
Am I ever not protected?
While employers can attempt to retaliate against whistleblowers, you are protected by law. However, your behavior cannot cross the line of acceptable conduct. This means you cannot physically harm your employer or use crude language against them. Your complaint must also be for an action that should reasonably be reported. If it is not listed in the previous list of actions or is not unethical, you are unlikely to be successful in bringing the activity forward.
If you suspect your employer has committed an illegal or unethical act, remain calm about the situation and contact an attorney about what to do. They can help you discern whether the activity is one that can be reported and they can also protect you from retaliation and build a case around the employer’s incorrect behavior.