Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers are people who report wrongdoing by their employers. Many different federal and Ohio state laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. Which law applies will often be determined by the activity that the whistleblower is reporting. For example, an employee reporting possible environmental crimes by an employer is protected by certain environmental protection laws. Another federal law protects people who "blow the whistle" on companies that overcharge the federal government for services or products provided to the federal government. Dozens of laws exist to protect particular different whistleblowing activities. These are just two examples.

Ohio also has a more general law that protects whistleblowers. Ohio Revised Code Section 4113.52 protects an employee who properly reports their reasonable belief that their employer is committing "a criminal offense that is likely to cause an imminent risk of physical harm to persons or a hazard to public health or safety or is a felony." The employee, however, must make the report in good faith. The employee does not have to be right about the allegation, but some factual basis for the allegation must exist.

The statute also has strict requirements regarding how the employee must report their concerns. An employee seeking whistleblower protection must prove that: (1) the employee provided the required oral notification to the employee's supervisor or other responsible officer of the employer, (2) the employee filed a written report with the supervisor or other responsible officer, (3) the employer failed to correct the violation or to make a reasonable and good faith effort to correct the violation. Furthermore, the statute requires that an employee must prove that after the employer failed to take steps to correct the violation, the employee filed "a written report that provides sufficient detail to identify and describe the violation with the proper prosecuting authority or other appropriate official or agency with regulatory authority over the employer and the industry, trade or business in which the employer is engaged."

Complying with Ohio's statute is difficult for most employees. This means that most claims brought under the statute fail. But because alternative protections may exist, employees should seek competent counsel when they feel that they have been retaliated against for reporting employer wrongdoing. Likewise, Ohio employers accused of whistleblower retaliation should retain counsel experienced and familiar with the particular whistleblower laws at issue because many times defenses will depend on technical application of statutes that require in depth knowledge of what the statute requires.

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