Unless you have been living under a rock or spending hours upon hours binge-watching your favorite TV show, the chances are high that you have heard of the term whistleblower. However, you may not be completely sure what it means to be a whistleblower. An employee who comes forward to uncover any information or any type of activity that the person honestly believes is illegal is known as a whistleblower.
Since it is highly important to reveal any information that is not legal, in Minnesota there is an act known as the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. This act serves as a form of protection for the employees who come forward to expose the illegal activity within the workplace. Under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, it is illegal to terminate, discipline, or intimidate someone who has reported the illegal activity, as well as the following:
- Turning down the opportunity to commit an illegal activity or any type of activity that will be considered to be a law violation
- Assisting the government with an investigation or hearing
- Reporting of someone’s violation of healthcare standards, regardless if it is state-related or federal-related
When an employee makes a report or files a complaint, the reported information has to be in good faith. When a report is made in good faith, it means that the employee may not be 100 percent correct about the activity or actions that have taken place, but the employee truly believes that illegal actions are taking place in the workplace.
In addition to not fully understanding exactly what it means to be a whistleblower, you may not be aware of what is considered as a second-hand whistleblower complaint and how credible that complaint could be. While the Minnesota Whistleblower Act offers protection to the employee or anyone who may be carrying out the activity on behalf of someone else, is it possible that someone else could be offered protection as well?
The act states that protection is offered for “a person acting on behalf of an employee”. Could this mean that a spouse or advocate could be protected if that person reports concerns about the illegal activity? For instance, if Jessie tells Richard about any wrongdoing that is taking place and Jessie exposes what Richard has confessed, will Jessie be protected?
If Jessie reports the wrongdoing and Richard does not, could this mean that Jessie will receive the protection and Richard will not because he was not the one to report the wrongdoing? Generally, the court will be able to make the decision. However, it could be interpreted that although Richard did not actually make the report to an authority, he did make it indirectly by sharing his concerns with Jessie.
In 2017, the Minnesota Supreme Court clarified the “good faith” whistleblower claims. The clarification mandated that any report that is filed should not be reported falsely or rashly. Employees will now be protected if it is discovered that the report was not made with a complete disregard for the truth. After the changes, the reasons why the employee made the report are no longer relevant.
There is no longer a definitive statutory order that a whistleblower report has to be based on first-hand knowledge of the situation. As a result, an argument could certainly be made that a “second-hand” report could result in protection under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. In order for an employer to prevent these types of claims, employers will need to do the following:
- Do not ignore complaints about suspicions of illegal actions
- Make sure employees are aware that they will not be terminated or disciplined after making a report
- Do not be afraid to seek assistance before determining what actions will be taken after a report has been filed
For information about the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, the steps that need to be taken to file a claim, and what one may be entitled to after making a claim under the MWA, please do not hesitate to contact us today.
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