Presumably, most people are honest. Most people don’t steal, they pay their taxes, and their actions mostly conform to the laws of our society. There are, however, a few bad apples in the bunch. What happens if you work for one of the wrongdoers? Should you turn in your boss? The answer to this question is almost an unequivocal “yes.” Think about it for a minute. If you know your boss is doing something wrong or something illegal, and you keep diligently and productively working for him, aren’t you furthering the wrongdoing? On the other hand, you are afraid that you might lose your job or be punished in another way in the event you do report the illegal activity? Don’t worry, the law has your back!
Minnesota has adopted a comprehensive set of “whistleblower” laws which give employees protection from employers who are upset that someone has reported their illegal conduct. M.S.A. § 181.932 reads in part that:
An employer shall not discharge, discipline, threaten, otherwise discriminate against, or penalized an employee regarding the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location, or privileges of employment because:
- The employee, or a person acting on behalf of the employee, in good faith, reports a violation or suspected violation of any federal or state law or rule adopted pursuant to law to an employer or to any governmental body or law enforcement official;
- The employee is requested by a public body or office to participate in an investigation, hearing, inquiry;
- The employee refuses an employer’s order to perform an action that the employee has an objective basis in fact to believe violates any state or federal law or rule or regulation adopted pursuant to law, and the employee informs the employer that the order is being refused for that reason;
- The employee, in good faith, reports a situation in which the quality of health care services provided by a health care facility, organization, or health care provider violates a standard established by federal or state law or a professionally recognized clinical or ethical standard and potentially places the public at risk of harm; or
- a public employee communicates the findings of a scientific or technical study that the employee, in good faith, believes to be truthful and accurate, including reports to a governmental body or law enforcement official.
The employee cannot disclose information that would otherwise be protected by law, nor may he violate any federal or state law or diminish or impair the rights of any person who is entitled to confidentiality.
Most importantly, however, the employee must have a good faith belief that the violation is occurring. The good faith standard works both ways and protects both the employer and the employee. This implies a number of things.
- If an employee sincerely believes that the employer is violating the law in some way, but it turns out that no law is being violated, the employer may not penalize the employee. The employee must only have a reasonable belief that a violation is occurring.
- An employee who is angry or disgruntled for another reason may not arbitrarily report a “violation” to the government as a means to subject the boss and the company to a lengthy and painful investigation.
- If one party alleges that the whistleblowing was done in bad faith, that party typically has the burden of proving it.