Whistleblower liability: Are you ready to put your job on the line?
Kristopher T. Starr JD, MSN, RN

February 2014 
Volume 44  Number 2
Pages 16 - 17
  PDF Version Available!

SOME RECENT QUESTIONS submitted to this journal have focused on employer and colleague conduct-specifically, what conduct pushes the envelope of legality and what conduct constitutes a breach of legality and/or becomes reportable to an appropriate oversight authority. Reading these letters struck me as a good opportunity to discuss whistleblower liability.What exactly is a "whistleblower"? The basic definition is a person who discloses wrongdoing to someone with authority to remedy the situation, or a person who discloses wrongdoing indirectly by notifying an external organization, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) or the press.1Nationally, legal protection for whistleblowers first arose in federal law. Federal government employees have certain statutory protections for reporting alleged fraud and misconduct involving government activity.2 In addition, various congressional guidelines dictate what actions will trigger the umbrella of protections in the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.3The intent of federal whistleblower protection is to prevent retaliation against a civil servant who attempts to disclose a known harm to the government (generally financial) and, by way of trickle down, harm to the citizens of the United States.In point of fact, federal whistleblower protections touch on many areas. Some of these protections are quite specific to the legislated area, such as the Mine Health & Safety Act: Non Retaliation Act, which applies to a specific industry. Others are very general and apply broadly to a type of proscribed behavior, such as the False Claims Act.Some states also have laws protecting whistleblowers, but these vary as to who is protected. Some states protect both public and private employees, some protect only public employees, and some grant no protection at all. A great resource for seeing where your state falls under the umbrella of protection is the National Conference of State Legislatures: http://http://www.ncsl.org

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