Connecticut Whistleblower Lawyers

Most employees hope and expect to work for an employer that plays by the rules. But what if you discover that your employer is breaking the law, or that your employer’s practices are endangering public health and safety? If that happens, there are probably lots of thoughts swirling through your head, including whether you should expose this unlawful conduct and what will happen to you if you do.

An employee who reports their employer’s unlawful conduct is known as a “whistleblower.” Both federal and Connecticut law prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who blow the proverbial whistle. But the way a whistleblower must assert their rights can be complicated. Fortunately, whistleblower lawyers can help.

What are whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws?

Many violations of the law and dangers to public health and safety go unreported because employees who know about them don’t speak out. The purpose of laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation is to encourage employees to come forward with evidence that will make our world safer, healthier, and more just.

Often, the laws that protect workers – such as anti-discrimination laws, wage and hour protections, and health and safety laws – also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against someone who speaks out for the public good. The same goes for the myriad laws protecting the public at large, including environmental laws; taxpayer-funded programs; and government regulation of certain industries, such as nuclear power, trucking, and airlines.

When an employee makes a protected complaint, that complaint cannot lawfully be used as the basis for any adverse actions against the employee. Because of these legal protections against retaliation, employees should feel empowered to disclose information they reasonably believe is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, gross mismanagement, abuse of power, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

How can I know whether I will be protected if I blow the whistle?

In general, whistleblower anti-retaliation laws only extend to employee action or speech that is legally “protected.” It can be difficult to figure out what is protected, because the scope of protected activity is defined separately by each substantive law. For the most part, each law only protects employee complaints or disclosures about activity that is potentially illegal under that law. For example:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits certain forms of discrimination) protects employees who oppose unlawful discrimination, make a claim of unlawful discrimination, or support someone else who is making a claim of unlawful discrimination.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (which mandates certain practices in financial recordkeeping and reporting for corporations in order to prevent corporate abuse) protects employees who complain about financial or securities improprieties. Protected complaints can be internal (e.g., to a supervisor) or external (e.g., to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission).
  • The False Claims Act (which prohibits fraud against the federal government) protects employees who report, investigate, or try to stop fraud against the federal government.
  • The Federal Rail Safety Act protects employees who report certain safety or security violations by a railroad carrier or contractor.

The best way to figure out whether a particular disclosure is or would be protected is to ask a whistleblower lawyer.

What is an “adverse employment action?”

Most anti-retaliation laws provide remedies for any “adverse employment action.” What constitutes an “adverse employment action” varies depending on the particular law at issue, but in general, retaliation is any negative action that would make a reasonable employee less likely to blow the whistle. That can include being terminated, fired, or laid off; any form of discipline, such as a demotion or suspension; the denial of overtime or promotion; reassignment to a less desirable position; or intimidation, harassment, or threats.

What if my employer doesn’t know I am involved in protected activity?

As logical matter, in order for protected conduct to have caused an employer to retaliate, the employer must have known about the protected conduct before the retaliation. Sometimes that is very straightforward, because the employee complained directly to the employer. Other times it may be more difficult, especially if a complaint was made anonymously. But it is still possible to show from the surrounding circumstances.

I haven’t been fired, but my employer has decided to make my life at work very difficult. Can I still bring a claim if I haven’t been terminated?

Yes. It is not uncommon for employers to use subtle methods to retaliate against a whistleblower. Promotions or transfers may evaporate. Discipline may increase. Hostile remarks may make you feel unwelcome.

If your working conditions are becoming intolerable, it’s time to contact a whistleblower lawyer.

What are Connecticut whistleblower laws?

Connecticut has two principal laws that protect whistleblowers.

Section 31-51m of the General Statutes prohibits retaliation against any employee who reports a violation or suspected violation of any Connecticut or federal law or regulation, or any municipal ordinance or regulation, to any government official.

Section 31-51q of the General Statutes prohibits retaliation against any employee who engages in certain constitutionally protected conduct, including exercising their freedom of speech. In order to be constitutionally protected, however, employee speech must involve a “matter of public concern.” Whether a particular statement involves a “matter of public concern” is often disputed, but at a minimum, it would include whistleblowers who expose illegal conduct, government malfeasance, threats to health and safety, or other serious wrongdoing.

In addition to these two general statutes, many other statues include specific anti-retaliation provisions. For example, the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, which prohibits discrimination, also prohibits retaliation. For another example, the Connecticut nursing home patients’ bill of rights includes a provision prohibiting retaliation against anyone who complains about a violation.

What are the deadlines for a whistleblower to file a lawsuit?

Nearly every kind of legal claim has a time limit in which it must be filed. This time limit – also known as the “statute of limitations” – varies depending on the applicable law.

Under Connecticut law, some limitations periods are very short, including for some whistleblower claims. For example, violations of § 31-51m must be filed in court within just 90 days. Accordingly, it’s important to contact a Connecticut employment lawyer as soon as you have experienced any adverse action in response to your whistleblower complaint – or even before you have made the complaint while you are still deciding whether to do so. If you delay, you may permanently foreclose your ability to recover damages.

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