The term “whistleblower” has gained quite the attention recently. Americans were inundated with the phrasing on the nightly news for the past year. However, the term has significance here in West Virginia and is not limited to the beltway of Washington, D.C., or to the characters within a presidential tweet.
West Virginia Whistleblower Law, found in West Virginia Code § 6C-1-1, prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who reports wrongdoing or waste in the workplace. This report must be made in good faith and the person making the report must have reasonable cause to believe what they are reporting is true.
When we talk about wrongdoing or waste being reported, we must consider whether the source of this conduct is coming from a “public body” within the law. This could include a department or agency of the state of West Virginia. It could also include the instrumentality of a county or municipality. One caveat of the law is that any agency or body funded 35 percent or more through state or political subdivision authority also qualifies as a public body. In other words, follow the money. If the waste being reported is tied to taxpayer money, whistleblower protections may apply.
A whistleblower attempting to report wrongdoing or waste must make their report to an appropriate authority. This could include a federal, state, county or municipal government body. These groups could have criminal law jurisdiction or jurisdiction over regulatory violations or professional conduct, for example. Making a report to a superior at your place of employment may not qualify you for whistleblower protections.
Our nation has a long history of protecting whistleblowers. Historians date our first whistleblower protections back to July 30, 1778, when 10 American sailors on the USS WARREN signed a petition to the Continental Congress documenting abuses by their commander, Commodore Esek Hopkins. The Continental Congress responded with a resolution stating the following:
“It is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
Fast-forward to present day and those protections have only grown stronger. While not every whistleblower will come with the excitement of federal investigations or 24/7 news coverage, the premise remains the same -- those committing wrongdoing or waste of the public trust shall be held accountable and those brave enough to report such misconduct have earned protections.
At Bordas & Bordas we stand ready to represent whistleblowers. If you believe you may have a whistleblower claim, we would be happy to discuss the matter with you.