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What Protections are Available to Whistleblowers in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, an employer must not take any retaliatory actions against an employee if the employee engages in specific actions. An employee that is punished in this way is generally thought of as a “whistleblower.”

Imagine the following fictional scenario:

Eddie worked as a full-time employee for a well-known environmental justice non-profit organization that is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He worked for his organization for twenty-six years and was a beloved member of his company. One year ago, his boss, the Executive Director of the organization worked to make many changes within the organization. Specifically, Eddie’s boss worked to change the interpretation of the mission of the organization such that many of the organization’s employees began to question whether the non-profit organization continued to live up to its mission in the way that it had for decades prior. Eddie was one of these employees upset that the organization seemed to have abandoned its principles in favor of policies that were not necessarily the best for the environmental-focused mission statement.

One day, Eddie refused to participate in a company-wide seafood fundraiser that he believed was detrimental to the environment because he believed that the fishing industry, when done in a factory farmed setting, was more harmful to the oceans than good. Because he refused to participate and threatened to “out” his organization as one that does not follow its mission, Eddie’s boss terminated his employment at the organization. Eddie wants to know: could he institute a civil action in superior court against his boss or the company and would he be successful in such a pursuit? The first question, however: is Eddie a “whistleblower” as defined by Massachusetts law?

Although there are some exceptions to types of retaliatory actions, generally, the retaliatory actions include the following:

(1) Discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer, or of another employer with whom the employee's employer has a business relationship, that the employee reasonably believes is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law, or which the employee reasonably believes poses a risk to public health, safety or the environment;

(2) Provides information to, or testifies before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing or inquiry into any violation of law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law, or activity, policy or practice which the employee reasonably believes poses a risk to public health, safety or the environment by the employer, or by another employer with whom the employee's employer has a business relationship; or

(3) Objects to, or refuses to participate in any activity, policy or practice which the employee reasonably believes is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law, or which the employee reasonably believes poses a risk to public health, safety or the environment.

Under the law, an employee is someone who performs services for wages. An employer is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its agencies or political subdivisions. In other words, the employer is a public entity. The facts above do not establish whether the organization is a political arm or an instrumentality of the Commonwealth. In fact, the organization may be a nonprofit incorporated for its own non-political purposes. This means that Eddie would not be able to pursue an action against his former organization, because the statute only applies to public entities. If the facts were changed and Eddie worked for an agency in Massachusetts, such as the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, and he threatened to disclose the Department’s alleged policies or practices that were not in alignment with the public’s safety, Eddie may be able to pursue a claim.

Eddie would need to file a complaint within two years in the Superior Court. It is important to note that Eddie should also have provided written notice to his employer and should also allow his employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the activity, policy, or practice, that Eddie wishes to disclose before Eddie does so.

If you have any questions about issues involving tort law, business law, personal injury, or other issues, you should contact a competent attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth. Our experienced professionals may be able to work on behalf of you. Please contact our offices at your earliest convenience by phone at 978-225-9030 or complete a contact form on our website. We will return your inquiry with prompt attention.

Categories: injury, advice, tort law

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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