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.

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Photo of Colin W. Walsh Colin W. Walsh

We asked Colin W. Walsh, an experienced Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Rob Wiley, P.C., to impart his candid answers to a range of questions.   After reading, you will be more more informed on the well-respected reputation that Mr. Walsh 

We asked Colin W. Walsh, an experienced Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Rob Wiley, P.C., to impart his candid answers to a range of questions.   After reading, you will be more more informed on the well-respected reputation that Mr. Walsh carries.

1. What do you like most about being an employment lawyer?

I enjoy getting tangible results for my clients and being involved in an area of law that affects everybody every day.

2. What is the most important issue to you of being an advocate?

One of the most important issues to me as an advocate is to not only zealously represent my clients, but also the law.

3. What kind of clients do you like best?

I like the clients that I am able to help who were not able to find help elsewhere.  On a couple of occasions now, a client has told me that my firm is the first one that has listened to his or her issue and offered any kind of assistance.

4. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client.  If the client is not invested, then the other side won’t take it seriously and neither will the jury.

5. What labor and employment issues do you think are currently trending?

The biggest employment discrimination issues I see right now are related to age, disability, and pregnancy discrimination.  For some reason, these types of discrimination seem to be acceptable to employers.  The other issues right now are minimum wage and overtime pay.

6. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Justice William Brennan.

7. What would you say to HR of a company about how to treat employees?

It would be to listen to your employees.  Most employees are not looking to sue when he or she goes to Human Resources.  These employees are sincerely looking for help.  Nothing makes an employee seek legal counsel like when he or she complains about something and HR starts investigating the employee instead of the complaint.

8. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

The most interesting job I’ve had is working as an extra in film and television.  I should have known that I was destined to be a lawyer at that point because two of my biggest gigs were the TV show “Boston Legal” and the film Charlie Wilson’s War.

9. What is your favorite food?

Meat pies.  I first discovered them when I studied abroad in undergrad.  I can’t believe these have not caught on in the U.S. because they are brilliant.

10. What’s the best part of living in Austin?

All of the outdoor festivals.  And the Longhorns.

Colin W. Walsh is a Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Rob Wiley, P.C.  He graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in theatre in 2006.  Mr. Walsh then graduated from The University of Texas School of Law with honors in 2011.