Multiple federal environmental laws - including the Clean Air Act , Toxic Substances Control Act, Clean Water Act Act, Atomic Energy Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the federal Superfund law - have special provisions protecting whistleblowers.
Almost any private sector or federal employee can be protected under the seven listed environmental laws. However, many of these laws provide varying degrees of protection to potential whistleblowers with regards to protected disclosures, protection from retaliation, anonymity and confidentiality, and more. It is important to know which laws pertain to the specific instance before blowing the whistle.
Any employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against in retaliation for blowing the whistle on a safety problem or environmental violation, or for engaging in other activity protected under the whistleblower law can file a complaint.
Adverse changes to the whistleblower’s terms and conditions of employment are prohibited. This includes a wide range of actions from reprimands to terminations and blacklisting.
These listed environmental laws are administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Any complaints under these federal environmental laws must be filed in writing and mailed to the DOL Office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A complaint under six of the environmental statutes listed above must be filed with the DOL in writing within 30 days of the time an employee learns that he or she will be, or has been, subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
Many states have enacted laws to protect whistleblowers. Most of these laws have a longer statute of limitations and other benefits unavailable under federal law. In addition, other federal U.S. laws with a broader scope also may apply to whistleblowers looking to disclose evidence of environmental waste or misconduct. Laws such as the False Claims Act , Foreign Corrupt Practices Act , Securities Exchange Act and the Commodity Exchange Act contain whistleblower protections and provisions that allow individuals with original information to expose environmental crimes like wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and illegal fishing and pollution. If interested in learning more about the protections for whistleblowers exposing these crimes, our FAQ page covers everything from illegal timber trade whistleblowers to wildlife whistleblowers. Additionally, The New Whistleblower's Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself is the first-ever consumer's guide to whistleblowing. It contains twenty-one clear and comprehensive rules that fully explain the how to effectively blow the whistle.
Employees who prevail in their respective cases under the major federal environmental laws are entitled to:
- Back pay with interest
- A complete “make-whole” compensation (including restoration of seniority/sick leave, etc.)
- Compensatory damages (for emotional distress and loss of professional reputation)
- Attorneys’ fees and costs
- “Affirmative Relief” (such as requiring a letter of apology and formal posting of the decision)
If you need help finding an attorney, visit Resources for Locating an Attorney.
The New Whistleblower's Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself (Lyons Press, 2017) is the first-ever consumer's guide to whistleblowing. It contains clear and comprehensive rules that fully explain the how to effectively blow the whistle.
The material in this FAQ may not reflect the most current legal developments. The content and interpretation of the law addressed herein is subject to revision. We disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this website or in this FAQ. Before acting on any information or material in this web site, we strongly recommend you review these resources.