Workers in California who expose wrongful or unethical practices on the job may be afraid of the threat of losing their employment. This is one reason that the False Claims Act includes an anti-retaliation provision, making it illegal for companies to fire whistleblowers in response to their actions. In addition, actions like demoting, suspending or harassing employee whistleblowers are also banned by the act’s prohibitions.
However, constructive discharge is not specifically mentioned as a form of prohibited retaliation in the text of the Act. A March 2018 decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit clarifies that constructive discharge is another form of unlawful retaliation against whistleblowers in the workplace. In the case in question, a nursing director at a health care group was responsible for assigning nurses and invoicing patient insurers. In the course of doing her work, she realized that insurance bills were being inflated, while patients were not receiving necessary nursing care.
She raised her concerns as a registered nurse regarding the fraudulent paperwork. The company reportedly refused to do anything about the ongoing practices and continued to require her to submit the falsified forms. In response, she resigned, noting her ethical duty as a nurse prohibited her from doing so and that following the company’s orders could put her nursing license at risk. After several appeals in the case, the Sixth Circuit found that her resignation was, in fact, a form of unlawful retaliation imposed upon her by the employer.
Many whistleblowers on the job feel that they must resign or continue to violate their own conscience when their workplace refuses to take action on unethical behavior. The decision, in this case, indicates that employers who do this are also engaging in a form of illegal retaliation. People who are facing retaliation in the workplace for their whistleblower activity may benefit from contacting an employment lawyer in order to protect their rights.