Retaliation against employees who engage in protected activity, which includes but is not limited to reporting or refusing to engage in illegal conduct, violates the law. Whistleblower laws protect employees in both the public and private sector. A wide range of actions can constitute protected activity but generally reporting, testifying about or refusing to engage in the following will typically constitute protected activity under one or more laws:
Additionally, public employees do not lose their right to free speech simply because they agree to work for a state, local or federal employer. While the government generally has more power to restrict its employees’ speech rights than the speech of private citizens, this power is by no means absolute. Public employees who are retaliated against for engaging in speech as a private citizen on a matter of public concern may have a claim for First Amendment retaliation. The context and content of the speech must be evaluated to determine if it is protected by the first amendment. If the speech is protected, just like any retaliation case, an employee must prove that the adverse action suffered was motivated by their protected speech. In First Amendment cases, the court will evaluate whether the government employer’s interest in efficient operations outweighs the employee’s interest in speaking. Government employers often defend these claims by asserting that they would have taken the challenged action regardless of the employee’s First Amendment activity. It is important to remember that even if speech by a government employee is not protected by the First Amendment, it may still classify as protected activity under one of several whistleblower protection laws.
If you are aware that your employer is engaging in illegal or otherwise improper conduct and are considering reporting it internally or to an outside agency, or if you believe that you may already be suffering from retaliation for engaging in protected activity, contact the firm using the contact form or call 909-247-6742 to set up a free phone consultation.