The situation made Ryan uncomfortable. He had been working at a successful car dealership as a supervisor for almost a year and enjoyed his job. The dealership worked hard to keep its customers returning. For example, the dealership's practice was also to provide free oil changes for its customers the first year after the purchase. The idea was to make the customers happy so that that they would return for service or to buy new cars. The practice worked as the dealership had many return buyers.
But Ryan recently learned from some technicians that they were instructed by management to discard used oil into a drain that led to a city sewer. This was cheaper and easier for the dealership than saving the oil to be picked up and recycled. However, "dumping" the oil was illegal as it violated Health and Safety as well as environmental laws. Ryan decided to bring the matter to the attention of the dealership owner. The owner seemed surprised and a little bothered by Ryan's telling him this but he promised to look into it. Over the next week, Ryan noticed that the owner and other managers and supervisors had stopped talking to him. Ryan was then written up by the general manager for something he had not done. He was not informed of meetings that he had previously been invited to attend. His schedule was changed without telling him. A few days later, Ryan was fired. The owner vaguely muttered that his performance had not been satisfactory and also cited to the write-up. Ryan felt that he had been treated wrongly.
This is a classic case of "whistle blowing." In other words, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee who complains about (or "blows the whistle" on) the employer's illegal acts or a violation of a public policy. An employee's complaints about illegal activity to his or her employer's management (even when the employee has not complained to a governmental authority such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) or City Attorney's office) may trigger substantial legal rights and protection for the employee. An employee may have rights even if he or she merely has a reasonable suspicion of the employer's illegal activity.
The situation faced by Ryan is just one example of potential illegal activity by the employer. Other examples of are discrimination; harassment; unfair wage practices; fraudulent activities; violations of consumer protection laws; violations of health and safety laws and many others. And, "retaliation" by the employer for such complaints may come in many forms, from unfair discipline, demotion, loss of employment benefits, up to termination. Of course, the employee always has the burden to show the connection between his or her reporting the illegal act to the employer (or government agency) and the employer's subsequent retaliation.
Markson Pico LLP has been involved in "whistleblower" cases where the client complained to the employer about illegal discrimination and harassment; unfair wage practices; unfair sales practices; and violations of environmental and "Clean Air" laws. If you have been subjected to retaliation in the workplace after reporting the employer's improper or illegal activities, please call Markson Pico LLP for a free consultation.