Whistleblowing refers to protected employee reports and opposition to illegal activity. Whistleblowing activities can implicate various federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations. Effective whistleblowing requires careful attention to employer policies and a substantive understanding of the underlying activity involved in a whistleblowing report.
Both employers and employees must be careful to fully understand the legal rights and obligations associated with reports of illegal activity. The Oregon legislature passed a new private whistleblower protection statute in 2009 that broadly protects reports of "information that the employee believes is evidence of a violation of a state or federal law, rule or regulation." ORS 659A.199. There are also several laws that provide additional protections on a case-by-case basis, such as statutes that protect public employees who report certain types of "mismanagement, gross waste of funds, or abuse of authority or substantial and specific danger to public health and safety resulting from action of the public or nonprofit employer." ORS 659A.203(B)(b).
Not all reports and oppositional conduct are protected by law. For example, reports of conduct that merely violates private policies or raises moral, ethical, or fairness concerns, without accompanying reports of unlawful or illegal activity, may not be protected by law. Likewise, only reports made in good faith will receive protection.
Protection for reports and oppositional conduct will also vary depending on how and to whom employees communicate reports and opposition. Reports to law enforcement and government agencies generally receive broad protection. On the other hand, internal reports, especially those made to peers and non-management or executive personnel, may not necessarily be protected. Protection for reports can hinge on the level of specificity contained in the report and the content of the report itself.
Employers are prohibited from taking materially adverse employment actions against an employee because the employee has made a protected whistleblowing report. However, the mere fact that an employee has made a protected whistleblowing report will not prohibit an employer from taking adverse employment-related actions against an employee for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.
A short list of Oregon whistleblowing laws.