The Minnesota legislature passed, and the Governor has signed, significant amendments to Minnesota’s Whistleblower Act, which prohibits employers from, among other things, retaliating against an employee for making a good faith report of a violation or suspected violation of law.
Through a number of poor court decisions, the law had essentially been filled with so many employer-friendly loop-holes and defenses so that almost no one was protected by the law anymore.
Specifically, the bill does the following:
- It defines a “good faith” report as one that is not knowingly false or in reckless disregard of the truth. Prior court interpretations of the term “good faith” had excluded from protection reports made as part of one’s job duties or reports that did not affect some larger public policy. Those cases are now obsolete.
- It defines the term “penalize” as “conduct that might dissuade a reasonable employee from making or supporting a report including a post-termination conduct by an employer or conduct by an employer for the benefit of a third party.” Prior to this, an employer arguably had to take a much more tangible adverse employment action, such as termination, demotion, or a pay cut, to violate the statute. This amendment recognizes that there are numerous other ways an employer can dissuade someone from making a report and makes sure all of those actions are illegal.
- It defines a “report” as a “verbal, written, or electronic communication by an employee about an actual, suspected, or planned violation of a statute, regulation, or common law, whether committed by an employer or a third party.” Previously, there was significant debate about what an employee had to do to actually “report” a violation of law. Furthermore, this provides protection to employees to report “planned” violations, not just violations after they have occurred. It also expands the types of legal violations an employee can report to violations of the common law, such as torts.
- Finally, the amendments provide protection for public employees reporting unlawful conduct to their legislators or constitutional officers.
All of these amendments recognize the realities facing employees who want to do the right thing and prevent their employer from breaking the law. The additional protections afforded employees will hopefully result in increased corporate compliance with laws and regulations in Minnesota.