Texas Whistleblower Laws
whistleblower, n. An employee who reports employer wrongdoing to a governmental or law-enforcement agency.–Black’s Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition.
whistleblower, n. One who reveals wrongdoing within an organization to the public or to those in positions of authority . . . .–American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.
As the above definitions suggest, “whistleblowers” are employees who report wrongdoing in the workplace to a superior, a law enforcement agency, a governmental agency, or the public. Whistleblowers often take such actions at the risk of losing their jobs and careers. Unfortunately, despite the enormous benefit the public receives from whistleblower actions, in Texas, not all “whistleblower” activity is protected by the law. In some circumstances, a whistleblower may even be legally fired for reporting a violation of the law by his or her employer and may be left without remedy or recourse. In fact, in Texas, despite being home to Enron, a business scandal that rocked the country and financially ruined thousands of Americans, the Texas Legislature has reduced some whistleblower protections over the past decades in the name of tort reform (perhaps one reason why we were home to Enron?). Unlike other states where whistleblower laws provide much greater protection for employees, in Texas there is a lot of “whistleblowing” that leaves a Texas employee unprotected.
The protections that do exist for Texas employees are a web of various state and federal laws protecting certain employees for reporting certain illegal actions. While some of these protections will be listed below, if you believe that you have been retaliated against for some sort of “whistleblowing” activity, you should contact an austin whistleblower attorney to find out if your legal rights have been violated.
The Texas Whistleblower Act
The Texas Whistleblower Act provides legal rights for public (and not private) employees who report certain violations of laws by the employing governmental entity or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority. The Texas Whistleblower Act may be found in Section 554.001 of the Texas Government Code. In a lawsuit under the Whistleblower Act, an employee may seek to recover injunctive relief (including reinstatement), actual damages, back pay, front pay, court costs, and attorney’s fees. Since 1995, punitive damages are not available under the Act and other damages have been capped by the Texas Legislature.
An employee seeking to advance his or her rights under the Texas Whistleblower Act must move very quickly. If a public employer has a grievance or appeal procedure, an employee suing that employer must first exhaust that administrative remedy before filing suit and must do so quickly. Because the requirements for filing suit and exhausting administrative remedies under the Act are complex and time sensitive, if you feel you may have rights under the Texas Whistleblower Act, you should contact an attorney immediately.
Other Whistleblower Laws in Texas
As stated above, there are several whistleblower laws in Texas that protect whistleblowers from retaliation from their employers under certain circumstances. Because these laws are limited and only apply to very specific circumstances, you should contact a whistleblower lawyer if you have been retaliated against for “whistleblowing” or you would like to be advised of your rights before “whistleblowing.” Please be aware that, in Texas, a large amount of “whistleblowing” is not protected by the law. Texas law does provided limited protections for employees in various circumstances, including:
- Certain nursing home employees discharged for whistleblowing
- Certain hospital, mental health facility, or treatment facility employees discharged for whistleblowing
- Certain registered nurses discharged for reporting incidents of poor nursing to the Board of Nurse Examiners
- Certain physicians discharged for reporting the acts of another physician to the State Board of Medical Examiners
- Certain employees discharged for using the Worker’s Commission’s toll-free telephone service to report a violation of an occupational health or safety law
- Certain employees discharged for reporting violations of the Hazard Communication Act
- Certain employees reporting violations of employment discrimination laws, such as discrimination prohibited by the Texas Labor Code
Federal Whistleblower Laws
In addition to protections offered by state law for whistleblowers, federal law provides some protections for whistleblowers in Texas. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in the wake of Enron, provides limited remedies for whistleblowers who complain of certain accounting irregularities or violations of securities laws at publicly traded companies. Other federal laws provided limited protections for certain employees who complain about:
- Violations of commercial motor vehicle safety regulations
- OSHA Violations
- Unsafe shipping containers
- Mishandling of toxic substances
- Violations of airline regulations
- Violations of federal energy laws or Department of Energy Procedures
What to Do if Your Employer Retaliates Against You for Whistleblowing
Contact an attorney immediately, and preferably an attorney who routinely represents employees in employment litigation. To preserve your rights under the law for this type of retaliation, you should act quickly, as claims for whistleblowing retaliation are subject to statutes of limitations that vary widely and can often be very short in time (weeks or months). Lastly, take thorough notes regarding everything discriminatory that is said or done to you and keep all of your records related to your employment. These notes and records may prove invaluable in a later lawsuit.