Whistleblowing is a situation where an individual exposes information about an organization concerning some kind of wrongdoing, be that within the public, private, or government sectors. Generally, the whistleblower will be an employee that has discovered unethical and/or irresponsible activity from their employer that they wish to bring to public attention. However, many people worry that exposing misconduct could have negative repercussions in the workplace.
Thankfully, there are specific whistleblower laws in place that prevent workplace repercussions from occurring. These laws protect employees that come forward with important information of wrongdoing, however they can vary depending on the state where the employee lives. Oregon has some of the most comprehensive whistleblower laws in place, which we will discuss in this article.
What is Whistleblower Protection in Oregon?
In Oregon, all workers can report actions in the workplace that they believe violate the law, rule, or regulation – be that at a local, state, or federal level – and receive legal protection. This is known as whistleblower protection, and makes it illegal for any whistleblower to be discriminated against or face adverse employee action as a result of their reports of unlawful activity. Oregon retaliation laws protect whistleblowers from unlawful discrimination such as:
- Reduction in pay or working hours;
- Removal of employee rights and privileges;
- Direct discrimination towards the individual;
- Termination or suspension of their contract; and/or
- Demoting the individual after reporting violations.
This protection applies to all public employers and private organizations if a crime is being reported. If an employee does experience any of the above forms of retaliation, they can file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI). Following the investigation, Oregon employers may have to reverse the damages, pay what is due, and reinstate their employment. The number of retaliation reports made to BOLI are reported to the legislative assembly each odd year.
What Types of Reports Are Protected by Oregon Retaliation Laws?
For an individual to be covered by whistleblower law in Oregon, the reports made against their employer must be made with good faith. The reports must also cover an action that violates a local, state, or federal law, rule, or regulation. An example of such a report would be a breach of the Oregon Safe Employment Act, which specifies the health and safety precautions an employer should have in place to protect its workers. The reports could also bring to light criminal activity, civil proceedings against the employer, or breaches of human rights laws. For example:
- Sexual harassment within the workplace;
- Racial abuse and discrimination;
- Fraud or unfair trading practices;
- Failure to provide employees with their legal rights;
- Corruption such as bribing, embezzlement, and lobbying; and/or
- Violation of consumer protection laws.
It is important to note that the report does not need to prove true for the individual to receive whistleblower protection. As long as the reporter truly believes that the organization is operating illegally or unlawfully, the legal protective rights still apply. Moreover, the report does not need to be made directly to your superior but can be made to anyone in the organization. Allegations made both written and orally are subject to protection.
Following a recent amendment in 2018 when Senate Bill 1559 was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown, whistleblowing laws in Oregon were expanded. Now, reports can be made anonymously, offering employees a greater level of protection.
Why is Whistleblowing Important in Oregon?
Whistleblowing holds huge importance in Oregon, which is why protection rights are essential. Firstly, it is an ethical thing to do. Allowing individuals to speak out against wrongdoings can expose companies that are discriminating against employees and allow for justice to be upheld. Bringing unlawful actions to light also helps identify and control threats to organizations and ensures all employees have access to their human rights in the workplace. Reports can also provide new insight that helps to improve the effectiveness of public, private, and government sectors. Furthermore, it allows Oregon to crack down on fraud and prevent unnecessary loss of capital.
How to Avoid Whistleblower Claims in Oregon
Although whistleblowing is beneficial, claims can be detrimental for businesses. When a report is made, the company may be subject to a lawsuit and public scandal. Retaliate against the employee who made the report and you may be facing additional lawsuits for breaching their civil rights and whistleblowing protection. Here are a few suggestions to avoid whistleblower claims:
- Never Retaliate: If an employee has made a report about activity at your company, it is essential that they are not treated any differently. Employees are protected by whistleblowing protection, and a breach of these regulations could see you facing further legal action and criminal charges.
- Create a Whistleblowing Policy: Having a policy in place for employees to report wrongdoing creates a healthy work culture that encourages employees to speak about their experiences, but allows the business to address the issue quickly before it damages the company’s reputation or results in legal action.
- Investigate All Reports: When employees come forward with reports, be sure to take each one seriously and investigate the claims. This will avoid the need for legal action and allow the company to remedy the wrongdoing before it becomes public knowledge.
Oregon whistleblower laws are some of the most comprehensive of all US states. They give all public employees the right to bring forward reports of unlawful activity at the workplace, without the fear of retaliation. As long as the reports are made in good faith and with no malicious intent, employees are fully protected. Whistleblowing can be beneficial, but if one of your employees has filed a claim against you or one of your employees, it is vital to get in touch with an attorney. They can help protect your business’s interests and preserve your reputation, without infringing on the whistleblower’s rights.