Arizona Whistleblower Law in Public and Private Sectors

arizona whistleblower lawThe last place Arizonans want to experience negativity or brutal grandiloquence is where they earn money. Employers in public and private sectors are expected to comport themselves with equability in all areas of employee and customer interest.

Every now and then, CEOs and other corporate officials go rogue. They’ll “cook the books” in hopes of harvesting better stock performance. They’ll purposely release false reports in hopes of attracting new investors. And, in egregious cases, will commit rancorous physical or mental abuses so severe that reporting such activity could get people killed.

Whistleblower laws in Arizona protect individuals brave enough to step forward. Whether at a government capacity (qui tam) or in large corporations, illicit activity happens almost daily across the state, with many activities going unreported for months, or years.

Let’s look at whistleblowing from the perspective of Arizona employees.

What laws say

Arizona Legislature enacted whistleblower laws in the mid-1980s designed to shield public employees who work in state departments, commissions, agencies or boards, as state employees and who work or operate community college districts, school districts and within all county offices of Arizona.

Since its inception, laws have expanded to offer whistleblower protection in Arizona’s many private sector workplaces.

Employers who have pending whistleblower action against them may not:

  • Terminate the employment of the whistleblower who instituted the proceedings, filed the complaint, or testifies to health or safety issues in any open forum;
  • Retaliate against the employee in any manner now, or in the future;
  • Dock pay, segregate or initiate a hostile workplace in response to an employee’s whistleblowing activities.

The federal Whistleblower Protection Act, enacted in 1989, offers an even greater level of protection and often works alongside Arizona law to assure parties reporting illegal activity are shielded from adverse employer reactions.

Remedies Available in Whistleblower and Qui Tam Actions

Employees who report wrongdoing in public and private sectors have specific remedies available symptomatic of what action was taken against them.

Provided a timely report is filed with the commissioner, remedies available to employees include:

  • Injunctive relief which eliminates future wrongdoing by employer;
  • Fine of up to $7,000 if violations are repetitive; $5,000 minimum fine;
  • Reinstatement of employment with full pay, benefits and prestige (in some cases with greater pay and prestige);
  • Payment of back pay lost by employee during their wrongful termination;
  • Pain, suffering and all other relief deemed just and proper by an Arizona judge.

Qui tam actions, which are whistleblower suits that involve violations of False Claims Act, are treated differently. Although employers are still in violation if discharging employees who file FCA reports, the benefits given to employees are dissimilar to regular whistleblowing cases.

Writs of qui tam, when filed in a timely manner and thoroughly investigated by state or federal agencies, may qualify the whistleblowing employee to recover a percentage of what the government recovers. The exact percentage given to whistleblowers is often determined through communication between attorney and federal prosecutor assigned to the case.

Note that damages in qui tam action aren’t guaranteed, especially if funds taken fraudulently have been spent by the offending party.

Click here for more information on whistleblower protections in Arizona.

Whistleblowers should know this before reporting

A great deal of courage goes into reporting illicit activity, yet an even greater amount of proof is needed to substantiate claims of employer fraud or wrongdoing. Baseless assumptions and hearsay are generally inadmissible in court, as are the courts of public opinion in general.

Before reporting illegal workplace activity, make sure enough evidence exists to justify the report. Collect evidence, take pictures, quietly gather witness testimony, and take notes for as long as you’re able to.

From there, an employment law professional will take your case and attempt to end the employer’s criminal deeds for good.