SEC fine may lead to better protection for whistleblowers

Since the Great Recession, the federal government has implemented many changes in an attempt to curb illegal and unfair business practices. The Dodd-Frank Act contains many of these regulations, but until recently has not had much bite. A recent settlement between the SEC and a construction company may grant whistleblowers significant protection.

KBR, an engineering and construction firm, recently agreed to pay the SEC $130,000 for asking some individuals to sign agreements that might have deterred them, or even made them fearful, of speaking out about illegal business practices. The confidentiality statements required some witnesses in internal investigations to get company approval before speaking about company matters with any third parties. Those who violated the agreement could be disciplined or even terminated.

Though there were no reports that KBR acted on the agreements, many are hailing the settlement as a huge win for whistleblower protection. Other companies will now likely have to modify their employment and confidentiality agreements, making it clear that employees are allowed to speak with regulators. Hopefully now employees across the country, including those in Louisiana, will feel safer in their place of employment as they do not need to fear employer retaliation and wrongful termination for reporting illegal business practices.

While that is certainly the hope, the fact of the matter is that businesses will continue to break the law and silence those who might report it. Therefore, those who have witnessed wrongdoing in the workplace, or who have been fired, passed over for promotion, or harassed as a result of speaking up about what they saw, should learn their legal rights so they can protect themselves as best as possible.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "SEC Charges KBR With Violating Whistleblower Protection Rule," Rachel Louise Ensign, April 1, 2015

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