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Understanding the protections of a whistleblower

Some of you may remember the 1999 film, The Insider, starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, based on true events of a whistleblower fighting the tobacco industry. The film received nearly universal acclaim and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. At the time, the film helped spotlight the rights of whistleblowers in the workplace.

A whistleblower is any employee who reports unlawful activity by his or her employer. This could be something on a smaller scale such as harassment or discrimination of another employee, or something with far more serious implications such as violations of United States Federal Acts protecting the environment or consumers.

Often privy to internal information within companies that would go unnoticed and unknown by the public or authorities, whistleblowers play an important role in society. Whistleblowers who, in good-faith belief file a complaint against his or her employer on the grounds of health or safety hazards in the environment or workplace, have Federal and state protections. The same is applicable in most state's general statutes or common law, including New York state, which not only protects employees from retaliation, but also treats such retaliation as crimes by the employer against the employee.

If you believe your employee rights have been violated with retaliation by your employer for filing a complaint, you have thirty days to inform the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It may also be wise to seek the guidance of a firm familiar with the law to protect your job and determine whether you may be entitled to additional awards.

Source: Findlaw.com "Whistleblower Protections", accessed May 12, 2015

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