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Warn managers: Even years later, acting against whistle-blower can be retaliation

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Genuine whistle-blowers are protected against retaliation under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. The law applies even if the retaliation occurs years later.

That’s why you should caution management to avoid any action that smacks of punishing an employee for instigating or cooperating with a criminal investigation of alleged company wrongdoing.

Recent case: James Krutchen is a telecommunications engineer. While he was employed by Onvoy, he reported to management that he believed the company might be engaged in wrongdoing by routing telephone calls through Canada in an arrangement with another telecom company, to the detriment of a third company. After he was laid off, he took his concerns to the federal government. After a criminal investigation, Onvoy settled with the third company. It was also barred from receiving government contracts.

Meanwhile, Krutchen went to work for a different company. After a series of mergers, Krutchen found himself working for some of the same executives at Onvoy. That’s when he was terminated. He sued, alleging that he had been fired for the earlier whistle-blowing.

The court said the case should go to trial, despite the years that had intervened. The court observed that Onvoy couldn’t have retaliated against Krutchen earlier since he had already been laid off when the criminal investigation created trouble.

But it reasoned that if Krutchen could prove that management took the opportunity to punish him when they were finally in a position to do so, then he had a whistle-blower case. (Krutchen v. Zayo, et al., No. 08-4737, DC MN, 2008)

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