Whistleblowers are employees who bring to the attention of their employer or to the proper authorities allegations of fraud, abuse, other illegal conduct or waste on the part of an employer. West Virginia law offers protection to public employees from retaliation by their employer pursuant to WVa Code 6C-1-1 Et. Seq.
Retaliatory measures against whistleblowers include:
Changing the terms or conditions of compensation
Change in work hours
Chang in job location
Revising or changing any privileges or benefits of employment
West Virginia courts have protected workers who are terminated or suffer adverse consequences to their employment status or right to benefits for refusing to participate in illegal conduct such as falsifying safety reports. Retaliatory measures contravene public policy that encourages employees to report abuse and fraud in the workplace.
Unless you have a written employment contract, you are considered an at-will employee, meaning that your employer has the right to terminate you for any reason or without cause. However, you may not be fired or treated unequally for a discriminatory purpose including race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, age or disability. Private employees may find protection under the West Virginia Human Rights Act that prohibits employers from terminating you or implementing other measures to make your job more difficult because you reported acts of discrimination.
There are specific statutes protecting workers in certain industries such as coal mining and nursing homes who present whistleblower claims. Any employer regardless of the industry is prohibited from retaliating against you for reporting illegal conduct related to wage and hour violations or for testifying in support of such complaints or for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Whistleblower Claims by Public Employees
West Virginia Code Section 6C-1-1, Et. Seq refers to employees working for a public body who report abuses or fraud to the employer or the appropriate authority. When making such a report, you must not do so for your own personal benefit and have reasonable cause to believe the waste, fraud or wrongdoing that you are reporting was true. In other words, you are making your report or allegations in good faith. Before you do report instances of fraud, waste or abuse, have enough evidence that an authority would consider credible and reliable. This might include documents and eyewitnesses to the fraud or abuse.
Further, you must show by a preponderance of the evidence that you made the report or were about to present the report of wrongdoing or waste to the appropriate authority before the reprisals were implemented against you so that you can show a nexus. Your employer can, however, assert that such measures were for other legitimate reasons unrelated to your report. For example, your work production was below company standards or your salary was reduced because of poor financial conditions.
Remedies for Aggrieved Employees
If you were terminated or treated unfairly by your employer in response to a complaint you made about workplace safety or illegal conduct by an employer, you have a right to seek a remedy by filing your claim with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission. You must file your claim within 365 days of the retaliatory action taken. You may also file it with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEC) if applicable. Ask your attorney about filing.
Alternatively, or if you miss the deadline, you can file a complaint in the appropriate circuit court within 2 years of the action taken against you.
If you have a question about a whistle-blower matter, give us a call. At Wolfe, White & Associates we know the law and how to help protect your livelihood when you blow the whistle. Call us at 304-245-9097 for a free consultation.
Steven S. Wolfe