Employees may find themselves in the awkward position of knowing their employer is involved in practices that violate state or federal laws. This often means they have to ask the question “my company is doing something illegal, what should I do? Let’s face it, you need your job and your concern is reasonable: reporting that incident may result in the loss of your job. There’s good news however; you may be protected under Minnesota whistleblower laws.
Whistleblower Protections Offered in Minnesota
Generally, Minnesota law provides that anyone who reports illegal activity occurring in the workplace is protected from certain actions from his or her employer. These actions may include, but are not necessarily limited to being demoted or refused a promotion, being fired from your job in retaliation for filing a report or having your pay reduced or being passed over for a raise. These are only some of the protections under the Minnesota Whistleblower law. Naturally, an employee who maliciously files a report when no wrongdoing is taking place may be subjected to legal action as well as job loss.
Whistleblowing and “Good Faith Belief”: Wage Violations
Before reporting a violation, an employee must believe a violation is occurring. For example, the Minnesota minimum wage is $9.00 per hour. You are speaking with a team member from another group inside your company and you find out they were recently hired at $7.25 per hour. You believe the company is violating minimum wage laws and being uncertain where to turn internally, you file a complaint with the Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), Labor Standards Division.
What you didn’t know about minimum wage in Minnesota is employers are allowed to pay employees between 18 and 19 years of age who were hired in the last 90 days a starting pay of $7.25 per hour. This is known as a training wage. You however had a good faith belief your employer was violating the minimum wage law and therefore your claim was in good faith and you cannot face retaliation from your employer for filing the complaint.
Other Types of Whistleblower Actions
Let’s assume for a moment you work for a pharmacy and you become aware the pharmacy is billing Medicaid or Medicare for name brand drugs but are giving out generic drugs. You feel you are unable to speak with anyone at work about this practice because you fear retribution. In this case, you should contact a whistleblower attorney and have them determine whether there is sufficient evidence to file a qui tam action. In effect, this action is you, as a private citizen, helping a government agency root out fraudulent practices. You are still protected under the whistleblower laws from retribution by your employer and in these cases, you may also be entitled to what could be significant monetary compensation from the government agency if fraud is found.
In most cases, the more steps you take to document wrongdoing the better. In the first case (wage discrepancy) we referenced, you could ask your coworker to provide a letter to you stating their wages. If you have reported the discrepancy between minimum wage and the training wage to anyone in the company, you should document their name and the date you told them of the discrepancy. While there was no wrongdoing (remember the training wage), evidence always helps.
If you are an employee in the second case (generic versus brand name drugs) any evidence you can provide including store inventory information, a reimbursement slip showing a charge for brand drugs and corresponding copies of the prescriptions showing generic drugs can certainly bolster your claim.
It is important to remember that ignoring workplace violations could put you in jeopardy. Employees should always do their best to report workplace violations, particularly if there is fraud going on or you or someone you work with is in danger. If you believe you have sufficient proof of wrongdoing and you have a good faith belief your employer is in violation of a state or Federal law contact Matthew J. Gilbert and Charlie R. Alden of Gilbert Alden PLLC for a free consultation.