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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Understanding Wisconsin’s whistle-blower laws

A workplace is expected to be a safe environment, free of corruption in all of its ugly forms. Yet, many people all over the state of Wisconsin work every day in workplaces filled with blackmail, embezzlement, gross waste of funds and other shady business practices. Fearing for their jobs, witnesses often will do and say nothing. It is important to understand, however, that both federal and state laws protect whistle-blowers from losing their jobs.

Wisconsin protects any employee who reveals illegal or unethical actions of their company. As in most states, it is illegal for an employer to fire, demote or in some other way punish you for whistle-blowing. In fact, doing so could even lead to federal charges, depending on what the whistle-blower reveals and for whom they work. If the company has defrauded the federal government, this is known as a qui tam action and falls under federal jurisdiction.

Who qualifies for disability under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in order to protect people with mental or physical handicaps. Under the ADA, employers cannot legally discriminate against someone because they have a disability. It also compels public transportation, telecommunications and government buildings to make their services accessible to those who may have trouble walking, hearing, seeing or are disabled in some other way.

This federal law does not explicitly state qualifications that someone must meet in order to fall under its jurisdiction. It does include, however, those who are physically or mentally disabled in a way that has a major impact on their everyday lives. This can include those who use wheelchairs or canes/walkers, cannot see or hear well, has trouble speaking or in some other way has trouble performing ordinary tasks.

Should you file for short-term or long-term disability?

When you are suddenly unable to work, the effects can be devastating if you do not immediately file for disability. Knowing whether you need to file for short-term or long-term disability can be tricky, depending on the circumstances. On one hand, you may feel like you just need to be insured for a few months. On the other hand, you may be unsure just how long it will take to recover. Each have their benefits and drawbacks.

If you fall seriously ill or suffer a temporary injury, like a broken bone, short-term disability insurance is probably the best bet. These will be the cheapest policies and will start the soonest. Sometimes, you will receive benefits within a week. Generally, you can only be on short-term disability for two years. Anything longer than that and you are on your own.

Qui tam actions: how we can help

Qui tam actions are lawsuits filed by employees who believe their employers defrauded the government. Such employees are known as whistle-blowers. Without whistle-blowers, many employers would continue to violate the law without facing consequences. The False Claims Act was created to protect whistle-blowers. The Act also outlines specific requirements a whistle-blower must meet to pursue a qui tam action. For example, the Act states that the whistle-blower must be represented by an attorney. One reason for this requirement is that the process of filing a qui tam action is extremely complicated. The investigation process alone involves numerous steps, including subpoenas for records, interviews of witnesses, and expert consultations.

When choosing an attorney to represent you in a qui tam action, it is important to find an attorney who is experienced in this unique area of law. The attorneys at Alan C. Olson & Associates, s.c. have over 30 years of experience protecting the rights of employees throughout the Milwaukee area. 

Protecting your rights: do you know what you don't know?

If we step back and look at employer-employee relationships in Wisconsin for the past century, the obvious good news is that through a combination of federal and state legislation passed over the years, as an employee you have more rights and more protections today than ever before. But sometimes this progress can be more than a little confusing. You now have a plethora of statutory and regulatory protections that range from protecting you against discrimination in hiring, to ensuring that you have a safe place to work and are not subject to discrimination on the job, to rights that are available when you have changed family circumstances, and rights against being terminated unfairly.

How do you keep track of them all?

Whistleblower paid by the SEC

Wisconsin employees may be interested in learning more about the first-ever whistleblower payment made by the Securities Exchange Commission on April 28. The reward was given as a part of the federal government's new whistleblower rewards initiative. The recipient of the reward was a former hedge trader victimized by retaliation after he reported issues concerning internal conflicts of interests. According to the SEC, the former Paradigm Capital Management trader was also subjected to other unique hardships in addition to the retaliation.

The SEC declined to publish the whistleblower's name, but Reuters reporters already identified him in earlier reports. The owner of Paradigm opted to settle retaliation charges outside of court during June 2014 for a sum of approximately $2.2 million. The SEC was empowered to provide whistleblowers with protection from retaliation by the Wall Street reform Dodd-Frank law implemented during 2010. During April 2015, the SEC announced that the recipient of the award will receive $600,000.

Failure to report sexual harassment in Wisconsin

According to some experts, people are frequently failing to file suit against employers for sexual harassment. A representative of the National Women's Law Center has stated that the majority of harassment cases are not reported. These issues show up in both low-level and high-paying jobs, and the reasons for not reporting them are usually due to fear of retaliation, the desire to stay employed in a particular field and a desire to not have their life made public.

Many individuals who are the victim of harassment at work, be it from a boss or co-worker, do not do so because they are afraid of how it might affect their job. People are often concerned that even if they are not fired, they may be passed up for raises or promotions if they report these types of problems, even though such retaliatory action is prohibited.

Understanding federal whistleblower laws

The anonymous person who led federal investigators to a "flash crash" trader could collect millions of dollars for the information under the federal whistleblower laws. Under the program created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform movement, informants can collect up to 30 percent of the total sanctions if the government is able to collect at least $1 million as a result of these tips. Those who have information on Wisconsin businesses that have engaged in illegal practices may also be eligible for payment under federal whistleblower laws.

Under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, those who report illegal activity are protected from prosecution when they provide information that leads to federal indictments. Under the Dodd-Frank reform regulations, the amount of a monetary award is based on the total amount actually collected by the government.

Whistleblower alleges nursing home overbilled Medicare

Wisconsin residents may be interested in a lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act in 2009 against a chain of nursing homes. The suit states nursing home residents were put through physical therapy regimens that were billed at a higher rate to increase profits. On April 14, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was intervening in the case.

The case deals with the nursing home chain's use of high-tiered Medicare billing. Some services such as rehabilitation are billed at a higher rate. The Virginia therapist filed the suit, contending the chain used rehabilitative services whether needed or not, to increase revenue. Medicare will authorize up to 100 days of such care per year.

EEOC rules U.S. Army discriminated against transgender woman

Wisconsin residents may be interested to learn that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the U.S. Army violated the civil rights of a transgender civilian employee working in Alabama. The decision was issued on April 1.

According to the complaint, which was filed in March 2012, a transgender woman who worked as a software quality assurance specialist at the Redstone Arsenal Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center near Huntsville experienced discrimination and harassment by superior officers when she began her transition from male to female 5 years ago. She alleged that officers referred to her by her male birth name and male pronouns, kept her from accessing the women's restroom and purposely outed her. She further alleges that, despite receiving high marks on her work performance, she was removed from her post at AMRDEC because other workers were uncomfortable.

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