We have had a chance to represent a number of State workers in whistleblower retaliation cases – from the lower level clerks to the higher ranked managers and even one governor appointee. I was surprised to hear from them not only about the waste of public funds that they witnessed but also about the fraud, corruption and misappropriation of funds that they witnessed. Typically, I would hear about how the budget funds allocated for a certain public expenditures are being used for the personal benefit of the managers directly or indirectly (through perks).
When a State employee decides to become a whistleblower and report financial crimes such as fraud, embezzlement and other kinds of corruption that they witness to the outside government agency, that employee should ask himself two key questions:
1. Should your complaint be anonymous?
This is not always an easy call. On one hand, you might want to complain about what you witness without being bothered with being involved with subsequent investigations. However, when you make a complaint anonymously, you have no anti-retaliation protection. If you can’t prove that the employer knew about your complaints, and that this was the reason for the employer’s action against you (i.e. retaliatory suspension, demotion or firing), you won’t be able to make a retaliation and underlying wrongful termination claim.
If your complaint discloses your name, then you should be ready for retaliation. Even though you have certain protections as a whistleblower, this doesn’t mean that the employer can’t chose to fire you anyway, even if it’s clearly illegal, and then deal with your claims later. “Protected” whistleblower doesn’t mean you have some kind of immunity against termination. It simply says that if you are being fired and you can prove that your complaints were the reason for your termination, then you may bring a retaliation claim if you choose to do so.
2. Is reporting and whistleblowing about what you know worth it?
This is a much more practical and personal than less of a legal question. Is reporting violations and becoming a whistleblower worth it for you? Can you afford putting your job or even your career in jeopardy? Considering how relatively small the job market in Sacramento is, will reporting a violation result in spreading bad rumors about you that you won’t be able to stop and that will affect your future employment prospects? Will you in the end be perceived as a rat or a hero?
Further, if you are not terminated after you blow a whistle – how likely are things to change at your workplace after you complain, even if it’s investigated and those responses are held accountable for those violations? Will you have support of your co-workers and at least some of your superiors?
The above are the key questions you should ask yourself before blowing a whistle and reporting whatever serious violations you see take place at your workplace.