Tips for environmental whistleblowers

In the morning, you shower, brush your teeth, brew a pot of coffee and maybe throw in a load of laundry. Perhaps you swallow your vitamins with a glass of water, then make sure the dog has a fresh bowl of water before heading off to work. If you don't think about it too hard, you may be able to ignore what happens on the job. But you aren't that kind of person.

Maybe it's the fact that you and your family depend on clean water for your very lives, or maybe you just feel it's your civic duty. Perhaps, like many, you simply love the earth and want to do your part to keep it clean. Whatever your motivation, you know the right thing to do is to tell someone about the illegal polluting that's going on in your company.

What are you afraid of?

Protecting the environment has been a growing mission of the federal government for generations. As new needs come to the attention of lawmakers, new laws develop to restrict activities that place the delicate environment at risk. Some of those laws include:

  • The Clean Air Act
  • The Toxic Substance Control Act
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act
  • The Solid Waste Control Act
  • The Federal Water Pollution Control Act

If your company is taking shortcuts or ignoring rules that result in the dumping of pollutants into navigable waters or sources of drinking water, it is breaking the law. Forcing you to participate in these illegal activities is also a punishable offense.

You have every reason to be nervous about your decision to be a whistleblower. You likely fear retaliation, which may include a transfer to the worst job in the company, a demotion or even termination. You may face intimidation from your boss or co-workers, or even deal with threats against your safety or your family. The law protects you against these types of retaliation, and anyone who takes actions against you may face consequences, potentially including criminal charges.

What should I do?

Blowing the whistle is a delicate operation and often includes time constraints. Because of the potential consequences to your employer, coworkers and company, you are probably wondering if it is worth the effort. This is certainly something to consider carefully. Meanwhile, advocates for whistleblowers recommend you take the following steps:

  • Make sure your report is serious enough that it will make a difference to the environment and to other people
  • Establish that your claims are provable
  • Document any evidence
  • Avoid taking work time to plan your strategy
  • Seek legal advice

Some whistleblowers prefer to make their reports anonymously, and your attorney may be able to advise you on the best agency to contact. Others believe an anonymous tip may hinder the investigation of environmental and other agencies. Again, legal counsel can offer advice on your best options. An attorney can also assist you if you suspect your employer is retaliating against you for your efforts to protect the waters of Louisiana.