Employees have the right to blow the whistle on unsafe, unhealthy, and illegal activities at work without facing retaliation by their employers. Aptly named whistleblower protection laws are in place at both the federal and state level, but employers sometimes still feel they can keep everyone silent by threats of retaliation — implied or real. Fire or demote an employee here or there for their actions, and pretty soon the other employees will “get the message.”
If you feel your rights as an employee to report unsafe, unhealthy, or illegal conditions at work have been violated, or that you have been retaliated against for blowing the whistle, you should contact the Law Offices of F. Benjamin Riek III for counsel and representation.
Attorney F. Benjamin Riek III — with his four decades of experience — will aggressively fight for your rights, using all available legal resources at the state and federal level. The Law Offices of F. Benjamin Riek III serves clients in Akron, Ohio, as well as the surrounding areas of Hudson, Canton, Cleveland, and Lorain.
As mentioned above, both the state of Ohio and the United States government protects the rights of employees to report a wide variety of wrongs at work, ranging from unsafe conditions and sexual harassment to discrimination, illegal activities, and more.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 got the ball rolling in terms of whistleblower protections — your right to report wrongs freely and without fear of retaliation. Since then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has become the federal umbrella organization for reporting and acting on employee reports of workplace problems.
OSHA administers 22 whistleblower protection laws running the gamut from safety and health issues to others, including:
Commercial motor vehicle safety violations reported by truck drivers
Asbestos risks found in public schools
Violations of environmental laws and regulations
Hazardous railway safety and security issues, as well as misuse of public funds
Food, drug, and cosmetic hazards or illegal practices
Denial of health insurance based on pre-existing conditions
OSHA and its parent organization, the Department of Labor, consider complaints made solely to employers as being equally protected by law. In other words, an employee is protected for just reporting a safety, health, or other violation internally, without even going on to report the violation to OSHA or to a state agency or court with jurisdiction.
If the employee does report the violation to a watchdog agency, he or she is then also protected from retaliation for:
Testifying in any investigation or proceeding that results from the violation report
Assisting or participating in any such proceeding in any other way
Ohio has enacted statutes covering general whistleblower protection as well as for more specific areas of workplace violations, including discrimination and wage issues. These laws prohibit retaliation against whistleblowers, meaning employees who report violations cannot be discharged, suspended, transferred, denied a promotion, or denied a salary increase in response to lodging a complaint internally or externally. Section 4113.52 of the Ohio Revised Code states clearly that “no employer shall take any disciplinary or retaliatory action against an employee for making any report” of workplace violations authorized under state law.
Ohio law, however, generally requires a whistleblower to first report the suspected violation to the employer. If the employer refuses to act within 24 hours, then the whistleblower can seek other means of redress.
Under general whistleblower protection, employees can report:
Criminal violations of four Ohio laws governing pollution, hazardous waste, drinking water safety, and drinking water pollution
Suspected criminal offenses that pose a risk of physical harm to others
A co-worker’s criminal activities
The reporting employee merely needs to have a “reasonable belief” that a violation has occurred. Even if the reported incident turns out to not be a violation, the reporting employee is still protected from retaliation.
Ohio also affords common law protections for those who report suspected violations of Ohio public policy. The following activities are protected:
Reporting unsafe working conditions
Reporting suspected illegal conduct
Testifying truthfully about an employer
Filing a lawsuit over wages
Meeting with an attorney about a possible lawsuit
Filing a workers’ compensation claim
Different violations all carry different statutes of limitations, some as short as 180 days, so if you suspect something is wrong at work, it’s always advisable to discuss the circumstances and your options with a knowledgeable attorney.
More importantly, if you have reported a suspected unsafe condition or other violation at work, and your employer has retaliated against you for doing so — denying you a promotion, cutting your pay, demoting you, or worse, discharging you — then you definitely need the assistance of an attorney who will fight for your rights and your fair compensation.
Don’t deal with your workplace issues by yourself. There is skilled legal help available to you. The Law Offices of F. Benjamin Riek III serves clients in and around Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Hudson, and Lorain, Ohio. Call immediately if you’ve been retaliated against for whistleblowing, or if you wish to learn more about your legal options before moving forward with a complaint.