You saw your boss, coworker, or subordinate do something that you believe is illegal. Maybe they stole money from the company. Maybe they falsified or altered a report. Maybe they lied to shareholders. Maybe they asked you to do something that you believed was illegal. You want to report it, but you also want to know whether you can be fired for your whistleblower activity.
Under both Texas state law and federal law, the definitive answer is . . . maybe? Look, one of the first things most aspiring attorneys learn in law school is that the answer to almost any question is usually “it depends.” Also, note how many qualifiers I put in that sentence! I can’t help it. I’m a lawyer.
Anyway, here are some basic facts on employee whistleblower protection.
There is no general state or federal law that prohibits retaliation against employees who report what they believe to be violations of law.
Under both Texas state and federal law, there are situations where an employee can be explicitly fired for reporting illegal activity. Crazy, right? But not all hope is lost, just keep reading.
There are many employer specific, industry specific, and conduct specific laws that protect private employee whistleblowers.
This post is far too short to list even close to all of the various laws that protect private employee whistleblowers, but here are some of my favorites:
- 41 U.S.C. § 4712, 10 U.S.C. § 2409 – These two statutes provide protection to employees of private companies that are federal government contractors, subcontractors, grantees, or subgrantees. These are currently my favorite whistleblower statutes.
- Tex. Health & Safety Code § 161.134-135 – These two statutes protect both employees and non-employees who report violations of law at a hospital, mental health facility, or treatment facility. There is a similar law under the Texas Occupations Code for nurses at Tex. Occupations Code § 301.413(b).
- Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley – These statutes protect employees of publicly traded companies who report violations of securities laws.
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act – This statute protects employees and drivers of companies that own or lease commercial motor vehicles, liking trucking companies.
- Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act – This statute protects employees of car manufacturers, dealerships, or parts suppliers who report defects or other violations of law. I’m including this one because it is a good example of how specific these laws can be.
There are also several laws that protect public employee whistleblowers.
Again, this list is by no means exhaustive, but here are the main ones.
- Texas Whistleblower Act – this state statute only protects state and local government whistleblower employees who report in good faith violations of law to an appropriate law enforcement authority. Note all of the qualifiers. This is a tricky law, and, generally, employees only have 90 days to bring suit under it.
- U.S. and Texas Constitutions –. Generally, public employees may not be terminated for speaking out as a citizen on a matter of public concern as a matter of free speech and are also entitled to equal protection of the laws.
The above are just some of the ways whistleblowers are protected for their disclosures. There is a lot more out there and, as you might have already guessed, a lot of qualifications, maybes, possiblys, and “it depends” as to whether your particular situation is protected. The other thing is that statutes of limitations for the above claims vary wildly ranging from as short as 30 days up to 6 years. So really your best bet is to talk to an attorney about your specific case.