The law normally protects a Kentucky employee from employer retaliation against the worker for reporting certain concerns about the workplace to management, to law enforcement or to a government agency. Also called whistleblower protection, anti-retaliation protection usually kicks in when a private or public employee raises issues regarding:
- Workplace contamination, environmental pollution or other hazards
- Workplace discrimination or harassment
- Threatening behavior of other employees
- Testifying before or interviewing with a governmental entity
- Unsafe work equipment or vehicles
- Failure to follow required safety procedures in the workplace
- Violations of wage and hour laws such as those governing pay, overtime and leaves
- Employer or colleague fraud, failure to follow required procedures or criminal activity
- And others
Anti-retaliation protections also extend to a colleague who supports a reporting employee such as in a workplace complaint or a legal proceeding against their employer.
A Kentucky example
In July 2022, a jury in Boone Circuit Court awarded a whistleblowing social-worker supervisor $2 million in damages for “extensive retaliation for reporting problems at the state’s child protection agency,” according to the Courier Journal. His whistleblower lawsuit alleged, among other things, that he experienced retaliation after reporting to officials that 93 cases in which children had been alleged victims of abuse or neglect had been internally misplaced during a period of understaffing.
Reportedly, the agency had not investigated those children’s cases for months, potentially allowing reported maltreatment to continue. The social worker alleged that after he reported the neglected cases to officials supervisors harassed him, abruptly transferred him to another location, accused him of wrongful behavior and much more.
Seek legal advice
Whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws are complex with tight deadlines for filing and responding to complaints. Rules vary between federal and state laws, and by size and type of employer. Remedies can involve a complex interplay between government agencies and courts.
A Kentucky employer that is a new small- or medium-sized business should develop an ongoing relationship with legal counsel to establish processes and procedures that comply with applicable federal or commonwealth laws and regulations on whistleblower protection. A lawyer can help a new employer understand how to avoid accusations of retaliatory treatment.
The employer can discuss with their attorney whether to include their anti-retaliation policies in an employee handbook or as part of initial training. Should an employer face an accusation of whistleblower retaliation, a lawyer assist in response and communication about the matter as well as engage in negotiation and advocacy as appropriate.
A Kentucky employee who seeks guidance before raising a concern at or about work, or who already faces retaliation at work for protected reporting activity should seek advice about legal remedies. Meet with an experienced employment lawyer about legal options as soon as possible so as not to miss any filing deadlines. Experienced legal counsel can provide guidance and information about what law applies or what choices are available as well as what legal remedies are possible (reinstatement, backpay, compensatory damages, punitive damages or others, depending on the applicable law).