What Is The Illinois State Whistleblower Act?

Whistleblowers are getting a lot of attention these days — even in the mostly small towns of Southernmost Illinois. Because the entire purpose of a whistleblower is shedding light on corrupt of unlawful activity from the lowest levels of government to the highest, it’s not so surprising that they’re likely to feel some pressure when divulging information that the “powers that be” would rather keep secret. 

That’s exactly why President Donald J. Trump has characterized the man or woman who blew the whistle on his unlawful withholding of Ukraine aid as a traitor. He went on to tweet: “why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about… the Whistleblower and also the person who gave all of the false information to him.”

He likened the whistleblower to a spy. Previous whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have been put in harm’s way because of the nature of information released. Whistleblower laws exist to protect these individuals when they have important, valid information to disclose. They also govern how these individuals are allowed to disclose the secrets they have.

The Illinois State Whistleblower Act prevents employers from retaliating against employees when they divulge certain kinds of information to a government official or agency. This provision includes law enforcement agencies. 

What kind of information is considered relevant when determining a whistleblower’s protections? Anything that might be considered a violation of state or federally mandated laws or regulations. It doesn’t necessarily make a difference if the rule or regulation ignored was a violation of the law. As long as a governing agency says you shouldn’t do it, you’re not allowed to do it. And people have the right to go to a higher power to make sure you’re following those rules the way you should as an employer.

But the employee must have actual reason to have held concerns about employer conduct. If an employee can’t provide adequate proof that he or she did, then the Illinois State Whistleblower Act protections might not hold up in a court of law. 

Employees who wish to employ whistleblower protections should therefore seek the advice of qualified attorneys who practice whistleblower law before making a final decision about coming forward with potentially controversial information. Doing the right thing is important — but making sure that doing the right thing doesn’t backfire makes sense too.

Broken laws or regulations open an employer up to civil suit by the employee, especially if the employee was fired for the disclosure. Unlawful termination opens the employer up to damages including attorneys’ fees, back pay, etc. The Illinois State Whistleblower Act does not cover punitive damages. Even though employers may have done something wrong, they are not vulnerable to additional court-mandated punishments in civil court.

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