A “whistleblower” is an employee who reports illegal or unethical activity of their employer to the proper authorities. However, since employers may face monetary penalties, sanctions, and costly remediation costs associated with correcting the violation, reporting employees may be victims of employer retaliation.
The purpose of retaliation is to either punish the employee, deter future reports, or both. Acts of retaliation include job termination, suspensions, denial of pay or benefits, demotion, and even threats.
Since it is in our society’s best interests that violations be reported and repaired, the government encourages employees to report by offering them protection against employer retaliation. Hence, Michigan and federal whistleblower laws protect public and private employees from being the victim of retaliation for reporting these violations.
Michigan Legal Protections
The general rule is that most employees in the private sector may be fired at any time for any reason or for no reason under the “at-will employment doctrine.” However, many exceptions to the general rule have been established. Exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine derive from two sources: (1) the courts which create and modify “common law protections” or (2) th legislature which enacts “statutory protections.”
Michigan recognizes a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Therefore, an employer may not terminate an employee for a reason that is contrary to an established public policy. In other words, an employee has a cause of action to sue for retaliatory discharge when the motivation for the discharge contravenes a public policy.
Additionally, Michigan has a general whistleblower protection statute the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA), which prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers. According to the WPA, an employee may not be terminated (or discriminated against) in retaliation for reporting a suspected violation of a law--whether federal or state, or for participating in an investigation, hearing, court action, or inquiry.
How to File a Whistleblower Claim in Michigan
According to the general whistleblower protection, it is mandatory for the report to be made in writing or verbally, and turns it over to a public body (e.g. state officer, state agency, law enforcement agency, member of the judiciary, etc.). However, an employee who discloses wrongdoing to a supervisor is not protected.
An employee may file a lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit is required to be filed within 90 days of the retaliatory action. For wrongful discharge claims, an employee needs to file a complaint within three years of the retaliatory action.
Courtmay award the following:
- Job and position reinstatement
- Reinstatement of benefits
- Back pay
- Seniority rights
- Attorney costs
- Court costs
If you believe you have a Michigan whistleblower claim, do not hesitate to contact White Law PLLC and request a free consultation with our Okemos employment law attorney today. Get more than six decades of experience on your side immediately.