Whistleblowing: protected activity in Michigan and across the country

Whistleblowing is a protected activity under Michigan state and federal laws.

According to Michigan state and federal laws, whistleblowers are protected for employment-related retaliatory action for their whistleblowing activity. Most people are aware of this, but may still have questions about what types of actions are considered whistleblowing, and who is a whistleblower under the law.

Who is a whistleblower?

The Michigan Whistleblowers' Protection Act protects public and private sector employees against retaliation when they report actual or suspected violations of state, local or federal laws. Under the Act, employees are protected against being fired, threatened or "otherwise [discriminated] against" as related to a wide range of aspects of employment, including:

  • Compensation
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Work location
  • Privileges/benefits

It is important to note that Section 15.362 of the Act specifically delineates that an employee who knowingly reports information that he or she knows to be false (i.e. reporting that the employer has violated a federal law when the employee knows that no such violation has taken place) is not protected from adverse employment action such as termination.

Federal whistleblower protection law is codified at 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8), and protects people coming forward to report or expose activity that they believe to be:

  • In violation of a law, rule or regulation
  • Gross mismanagement/waste of funds
  • An abuse of authority
  • A danger to public health or safety

What types of retaliatory action are prohibited?

Both state and federal laws prohibit any adverse employment action from being taken against a whistleblower in retaliation for protected whistleblowing activity. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

  • Firing/terminating
  • Laying off
  • Failing to renew the whistleblower's contract at the end of a probationary period or when it is time for renewal
  • Demoting
  • Failing to promote/failing to provide opportunities for advancement or development
  • Forced relocation or reassignment
  • Taking away job responsibilities/reassigning job duties to a non-whistleblower
  • Cutting wages or benefits
  • Creating a hostile work environment (i.e. singling out the whistleblower for his or her legally protected actions)
  • Subjecting the whistleblower to threats, physical violence or verbal harassment
  • Giving the whistleblower a negative performance evaluation

What can you do if you are the subject of whistleblower retaliation?

Under both Michigan state and federal law, a whistleblower who has been the subject of retaliation may be able to bring a civil action to recover damages suffered as a result of the retaliatory action. Legal actions under the Michigan Act must be brought within 90 days of the retaliatory behavior. Federal-level actions brought to the Office of Special Counsel are not subject to a statute of limitations, but court actions or union complaints must be brought in a timely fashion.

If you have been subjected to unfair, retaliatory action in response to your legally protected whistleblowing activity, you have legal rights. To learn more about those rights, contact the skilled employment law attorneys at the Detroit law offices of Miller Cohen, PLC. Call them at 800-221-6021, 313-566-4787 or 313-383-2422, or send them an email today.