Whistleblowing in the Workplace
The Law Offices of Kevin J. Dolley have significant experience and knowledge in handling a wide variety of cases related to whistleblowing. Matters involving whistleblowing often originate with an employee of a company who believes and reports that the company or its leaders are engaged in illegal or unethical conduct in their business operations. Our attorneys know what laws, facts, issues and liabilities are at stake in such matters, as well as the government agencies that may take an interest in such reporting. With our knowledge and experience, we are prepared to help you address, navigate and resolve whistleblowing matters in a manner that best protects your rights and interests.
Federal laws govern every industry in the United States. Often, these laws contain what are commonly known as “whistleblowing” or anti-retaliation statutes that seek to protect employees who, in good faith, report information about legal violations or misconduct. The nature and scope of these protections are similar, but distinct, across industries, sometimes in ways that are not obvious. Federal whistleblower or anti-retaliation laws include, but are not limited to:
- 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8) (federal government)
- 15 U.S.C. § 5567 (consumer protection)
- 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h) (securities)
- 18 U.S.C. § 1514A (securities)
- 29 U.S.C. § 660(c) (workplace safety)
- 31 U.S.C. § 3720 (false claims)
- 49 U.S.C. § 20109 (railroad carriers)
- 49 U.S.C. §§ 30171, 30172 (automotive)
- 49 U.S.C. § 42121(a)(1) (air carriers)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) administers many of these and other types of whistleblower protections under federal laws. Courts, including the United States Supreme Court, continue to interpret and clarify their meaning and scope.
In addition to these federal laws, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution generally protects public employees who speak as citizens on matters of public concern. However, this protection is qualified and limited in many regards. For example, such employee speech is largely not protected where it is part of what the employee is paid to do, or where the subject matter of the speech is only of private concern. Often, these qualifications and limitations are not obvious in a situation. Decades of legal decisions have elaborated on the nature and scope of these protections.
With all these different laws, constitutional rights, and their development through many years of court decisions and legislative amendments, knowledgeable legal counsel is necessary for you to determine whether any of these laws or rights might cover or apply to a situation involving whistleblowing that you are facing and what your options are to handle the same.
In Missouri, trial and appellate courts have recognized for decades what has been known as the “public policy exception” to the at-will employment rule. This exception created a cause of action for otherwise at-will employees who were discharged because they refused to violate the law or any well-established and clear mandate of public policy, as expressed in the constitution, statutes, or regulations promulgated pursuant to statute. In 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court issued decisions formally recognizing and approving “public policy exceptions” to the at-will employment rule. See, e.g., Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Institute, P.C., 304 S.W.3d 81, 91-95 (Mo. banc 2010).
However, in 2018, the Missouri legislature passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPA”). See § 285.575 RSMo. The WPA “is intended to codify the existing common law exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine and to limit their future expansion by the courts.” § 285.575.3 RSMo. In other words, the Missouri legislature—through the WPA—has rewritten the rules and principles that will govern any claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. And these changes are significant when understood in relation to the decades of decisions from Missouri courts regarding the nature and scope of the public policy exception to the at-will employment rule.
Our Firm has handled many cases involving claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy before both trial courts and appellate courts. We know how the law has developed and we understand the varying rights and duties within the employment relationship as it relates to matters of law and public policy. If you are facing a situation involving actual or threatened reporting of serious misconduct, or violations of law or clear public policy in the workplace, contact our Firm immediately. It is critical that any such reporting be taken seriously and addressed appropriately.
To discuss a possible whistleblower or retaliation claim, contact attorney Kevin J. Dolley directly at 314.645.4100 or by email at Kevin@dolleylaw.com.