How can public officials avoid claims of retaliation?

Federal and local governments usually encourage whistleblowers to come forward if they witness legal or ethical violations in their workplace. But what happens when employees blow the whistle on public entities?

A whistleblower report can be a challenge to deal with for any public entity. And in addition to dealing with the claims themselves, local entities must be wary of retaliation lawsuits as well. 

Here are some critical things to consider so that local governments can prevent accusations of retaliation:

1. What does the law consider to be retaliation?

Retaliation is any adverse action against someone after they engage in a protected activity, such as whistleblowing. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whistleblower laws prevent employers from taking various actions, including:

  • Demoting or firing the whistleblowing employee
  • Disciplining the employee without reason
  • Harassing or threatening the employee
  • Reducing the employee’s pay
  • Deliberately excluding the employee in work functions

The broad coverage that whistleblowers receive against retaliation can be intimidating for public employers. These protections force local entities to take great care when navigating a whistleblower claim.

2. Was the claim made in good faith?

It is crucial for public employers to take precautions to avoid retaliation. But they do have a right—and a responsibility—to investigate the whistleblower’s claim.

A neutral third party will usually investigate the claims as well. However, if whistleblowers follow the proper reporting procedure, then they should report their concerns to their employers first. This gives employers the right to evaluate:

  • The validity of the claim
  • Whether the individual made their claim in good faith or not

Of course, if the whistleblower knowingly made false claims, then whistleblower laws do not protect them. Therefore, local governments can take legal action against them. 

3. What are the whistleblower’s rights?

Understanding Texas’ whistleblower laws is also essential. Reviewing these laws can help public officials:

  • Comprehend their own rights in these situations
  • Decide how to move forward with their investigations
  • Determine how to deal with the whistleblower
  • Avoid retaliation claims and further legal issues

It is more common for whistleblowers to come forward now more than ever. Therefore, it is more important for public employers to understand their options if they face this legal challenge.