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An introduction to Michigan's whistleblowers' protection act

A recently-filed lawsuit in Detroit by a former employee of Volkswagen is calling attention to Michigan's whistleblower's protection act. Enacted in 1980, the statute is an important part of the state's employment law. It is intended to protect workers who report violations of state or federal law by their employers. The law provides an important safeguard against an employer's attempts to retaliate against such an employee by firing or demoting them in retaliation for reporting the legal violations.

The Volkswagen employee worked in the company's general counsel's office in Detroit. After news reports appeared stating that Volkswagen had attempted to defeat government emission regulations by programming its cars' on-board computers, the plaintiff was directed to destroy documents in the general counsel's office concerning the tests. When he refused, he was fired; in his lawsuit, he alleges that he was wrongfully terminated for refusing to participate in the document destruction project. Volkswagen has denied that the firing was retaliatory.

The state's whistleblowers' protection act is intended to provide protection against discharge or threats "regarding the employee's compensation, terms, conditions, location, or privileges of employment" because the employee reported a violation or suspected violation of a state or federal law or regulation to a public body. The employee must commence an action to enforce whistleblower claims within 90 days after the occurrence of the alleged retaliatory act. An employee can seek an injunction and actual damages, including reasonable attorneys' fees. Some commentators have accused the state supreme court of limiting the act's protection through decisions interpretations of the 90-day limitation period that adversely affect the employee. The court has also ruled that the act does not protect an employee who reports a co-worker who is planning to violate a law.

Anyone who is contemplating reporting his or her employer for violating a state or federal statute would be well-advised to seek the guidance of an experienced employment law attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide a helpful analysis of the facts of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of obtaining a favorable result.

Source: Michigan Legislative Council, Whistle Blowers' Protection Act, accessed on March 21, 2016

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