Previously, we began looking at the topic of at-will employment, noting both the general rule and the fact that there are important exceptions to the rule, including contractual protections and illegal discrimination statutes. Protection against employer retaliation is another important exception.
Protection against retaliation applies to various forms of protected activity, including whistleblowing. Employees who are terminated based on the exercise of their legal rights should understand that there are protections available at the federal level, and possibly the state level as well. Minnesota is among the states that have statutory protections against whistleblowing.
Minnesota law prohibits employers from terminating employees—or taking a number of other adverse actions against employees—based on the employee’s reporting of a violation, a suspected violation or planned violation of any federal or state law, or common law or regulation. Nor may an employer terminate an employee based in the employee’s participation in an investigation, hearing or inquiry by a public body or office.
One important thing to realize with whistleblowing is that the report must be made in good faith. An employee has no legal protection if he or she makes a false disclosure of a suspected violation of law, or a disclosure with reckless disregard of the truth. It is also important to ensure that disclosures do not violate federal or state confidentiality protections or impair the rights of others to confidentiality under common law. Employers sometimes attempt to attack whistleblowers on the grounds that they revealed confidential information, and while these attempts are often unsuccessful, it is important for employees to be careful to avoid recklessness in revealing such information.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic.