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Police Paid to Shoot ... Hoops? Note on Whistleblower Claims

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 23, 2009 12:55 PM

Some cops in Tacoma, Washington, may have had some pretty enviable job "duties". That is at least, according to a whistleblower, who claims police officers in the Tacoma Police Department got paid to play basketball. Worse yet, this might have been happening for years, reports KOMO. Okay, to avoid being one-sided here, the cops apparently were playing in a yearly charity that promotes "a community free of illegal drugs and gang activity". But then again "the complaint alleges, the officers were even getting paid to practice." Well, unfortunately for the police basketball players, someone didn't approve (wasn't invited on the team, perhaps?) and filed a whistleblower complaint leading to an internal affairs investigation.

Although whistleblower complaints are heard about fairly frequently in the news, people might not know much about whistleblower laws. The basic idea behind these laws is that employees who report, i.e. blow the whistle on, believed violations of law by an employer are protected by both state and federal whistleblower laws. Whistleblowing laws have also been designed to encourage the reporting of government waste and fraud.

There are a variety of federal laws that have protections for employees who report misconduct, with environmental laws such as the Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Clean Air Act being noteable examples. State common laws supplement these protections by prohibiting retaliation for an employee's reporting of what they believe (in good faith) are illegal actions by an employer.

Retaliation doesn't just mean getting canned, either, and some other examples of retaliation provided by OSHA include getting blacklisted, demoted, denied overtime/promotions/benefits, getting intimidated at work, and more. Also, whistleblower laws are intended to protect individuals who make qualifying complaints, whether those are made internally (via their employer) or externally (via a government agency, for example). That said, it should be noted that serious questions exist regarding whistleblower laws' effectiveness and/or enforcement.

Someone who is considering whistleblowing of any sort could be very well served by first consulting with an attorney experienced in whistleblower cases and law. Lastly, it is important to know that whistleblower law is constantly in flux, via changes in laws and regulations. In certain fields, such as health care, government employment or contracting, and the like, laws may provide added whistleblowing protections to employees.

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