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Joshua Newville, Minnesota Employment Lawyer, Civil Rights Attorney, and Mediator

There are many laws that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who "blow the whistle" by exposing or resisting certain kinds of unlawful, deceptive, or unfair conduct. Some laws also provide monetary incentives to whistleblowers who expose fraud.

Minnesota Mediator & Investigator for Whistleblower Claims

As an employment law mediator and investigator who handles matters involving state and federal law, I am familiar with the laws prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers. I seek to help parties who are locked in dispute over such laws, including employee whistleblowers and their employers.

What is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is an employee who reports illegal, unethical, or improper conduct by their employer. Both federal and state laws offer certain protections to whistleblowers in order to encourage the reporting of misconduct and to prevent retaliation against those who speak out.​​

What are Federal Whistleblower Protections?

At the federal level, there are several laws that protect whistleblowers. These laws often apply to specific industries or types of misconduct. For example:

  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects employees of publicly-traded companies who report fraud or violations of securities regulations.

  • The False Claims Act protects employees who report fraud against the government.

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) protects employees who report workplace safety issues.

  • The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees who report government misconduct.

Under these and other federal laws, employers are generally prohibited from retaliating against employees who report misconduct. This can include adverse employment actions like termination, demotion, harassment, or other forms of discrimination.


What are Minnesota Whistleblower Protections?

In Minnesota, the Whistleblower Act provides broad protections for employees who report illegal conduct by their employer. Under this law, an employer cannot discharge, discipline, threaten, discriminate against, or penalize an employee in any manner that might dissuade a reasonable employee from making or supporting a report of illegal conduct.

The Minnesota Whistleblower Act protects employees who:

  • Report a violation or suspected violation of federal or state law to their employer, a governmental body, or law enforcement official.

  • Are asked to participate in an activity they reasonably believe is a violation of federal or state law and refuse to do so.

  • Participate in investigations, hearings, inquiries, or court actions.

  • The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees who report government misconduct.


What kind of retaliation against whistleblowers is Illegal? 

The kind of adverse employment actions that employers might take against a whistleblower that constitute unlawful retaliatory conduct can vary widely depending on the specific law and circumstances. As a general rule, the law prohibits employers from engaging in any action that could deter a reasonable person from participating in the protected activity. For example:

  • Termination: An employee reports regulatory violations to a state agency. A week later, the employee is fired without a clear reason.

  • Demotion: An employee at a corporation reports financial misdeeds to a supervisor. Subsequently, the employee is demoted from a managerial position to a lower-level job with less responsibility. 

  • Reduced Pay: An employee at a retail store reports that the company is not complying with health codes. The employee's hourly wage is then reduced.

  • Reduced Hours: A nurse reports patient neglect at a hospital. Her shifts are then cut from full-time to part-time, resulting in lower pay.

  • Denying Benefits: An employee at a tech company raises concerns about discriminatory hiring practices. The next year, the employee is passed over for the company's annual bonus, which they had received every previous year.

  • Denying Promotion: A government employee reports misuse of funds. Despite having the qualifications and seniority, the employee is passed over for a promotion that is given to a less qualified colleague.

  • Adverse Scheduling: An employee at a factory blows the whistle on hazardous waste disposal practices. The employee, who previously worked day shifts, is then moved to the night shift, which interferes with their family responsibilities. 

  • Adverse Transfer: An employee at a marketing firm reports ethical violations in how customer data is being used. The employee is then moved from an exciting high-profile project to a less desirable one.

  • Harassment/Intimidation: After reporting financial fraud in a company, an employee starts receiving threatening emails and phone calls, or is constantly criticized or verbally abused by their supervisor or colleagues.

  • Exclusion: An employee reports sexual harassment. Afterwards, they are purposefully isolated by colleagues, left out of meetings, or given the "silent treatment."

  • Blacklisting: After an employee at a pharmaceutical company reports regulatory violations, they are fired. When they apply for jobs at other pharmaceutical companies, they discover that their former employer has been telling others in the industry that they are a "troublemaker," preventing them from getting another job.


What remedies are available in cases involving illegal whistleblower retaliation?

If an employer has retaliated against an employee whistleblower, the employee may several potential avenues for redress. For example:​

  • Reinstatement: If the employee was fired, demoted, or otherwise had their employment status adversely affected because of whistleblowing, they may be entitled to have their position restored.

  • Back Pay: The employee may be able to recover lost wages resulting from the retaliation. This can include lost salary, bonuses, and benefits.

  • Front Pay: In some cases, the employee may be able to recover future wages they will lose as a result of the retaliation.

  • Compensatory Damages: The employee may be entitled to damages for emotional distress or harm to their reputation caused by the retaliation.

  • Punitive Damages: In some cases, if the employer's conduct was particularly egregious, the employee may be awarded punitive damages, which are intended to punish the employer and deter similar conduct in the future.

  • Attorneys' Fees and Costs: Many whistleblower laws allow the employee to recover the costs of bringing the lawsuit, including attorneys' fees.

Whistleblower cases can be complex, and the laws vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specifics of the situation. Therefore, it's generally recommended that both employees and employers consult with an attorney when dealing with potential whistleblower situations.

Related Topics:

Minnesota Employment Law Attorney
Minnesota Legal Investigations Attorney
Minnesota Retaliation Attorney
Minnesota Sexual Harassment Attorney
Minnesota Wrongful Termination Attorney
Minnesota Wage Tip and Hour Attorney
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