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Not me, but a friend.

They found some paycheck inconsistencies for them and a bunch of other employees, and asked about it. The response from management was "oh, oops. We'll fix it"

A few days later she came in to fill a shift for someone, but was blocked from coming in and told she was fired. Being somewhat in shock, she tried to ask why, to which they responded "we'll call the cops if you don't leave right now."

There had been no issues up until this point, so the whole thing kind of reeks of red flags.

Is there any recourse for this? My sense is that this should be investigated, some amount of auditing should be done, and -- if it seems plausible she was fired for finding it -- unemployment might be an option.

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    You might want to indicate jurisdiction, and whether your friend's employment was at-will or her contract provided termination for cause. I presume the employer is a private company rather than a governmental entity. Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 21:39
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    Identifying the nature of the inconsistencies might also be useful. If you're fired for reporting overtime violations, that's going to be more serious than reporting that everyone's addresses are wrong.
    – bdb484
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 2:23
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    This absolutely looks like retaliation, and is illegal in the US, notwithstanding anything else. Contact an employment lawyer.
    – Dúthomhas
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:08
  • @Dúthomhas impossible to say without knowing what is meant with "paycheck inconsistencies" and how those were discovered. Fraudulently billing hours is a serious offence and rightly leads to instant termination and probably legal action.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 19:54
  • @jwenting Are you really saying that OP (and other employees) was trying to commit fraud against their employer, and thus was terminated? That’s a pretty serious leap, methinks.
    – Dúthomhas
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 22:22

1 Answer 1

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Protections for workers from wrongful termination from employment in the U.S. are among the weakest in the developed world.

Unemployment benefits

If you are fired and there is not a "good cause" basis to fire you, you are entitled to unemployment insurance in almost all U.S. states (at least if you have worked for the employer long enough). Firing you because you discovered a payroll accounting problem and brought it to the employer's attention would ordinarily not constitute "good cause" for unemployment insurance purposes.

Unemployment benefits last only a limited period of time, are for only a fraction of what you earned when you were employed, and can be terminated if you fail to actively look for work or find new employment.

Whistleblower protections

There are whistleblower statutes that prohibit employers from firing someone for reporting certain kinds of employer misconduct (although the remedy is usually a large dollar damages award - typically more than unemployment benefits, rather than reinstatement).

But it isn't entirely clear that one would apply in this case, particularly without knowing which state if it is in the U.S., is involved.

There is not one omnibus whistleblower protection statute at the federal level or in most U.S. states that prohibits firing or punishing an employee in every case where misconduct is revealed (this kind of conduct by an employer is also sometimes called "retaliation" or a "retaliatory firing").

Instead, there is a patchwork of whistleblower protections for particular kinds of misconduct that is reported by the employee. One would have to determine if this particular kind of misconduct would fit one of those statutes.

For example, there are at least five different agencies that enforce whistleblower protections at the federal level:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) helps to reduce deaths, injuries, and illnesses in the nation's mines with a variety of activities and programs. The Agency develops and enforces safety and health rules for all U.S. mines, and provides technical, educational and other types of assistance to mine operators.

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), protects workers, promotes diversity and enforces the law. OFCCP holds those who do business with the federal government (contractors and subcontractors) responsible for complying with the legal requirement to take affirmative action and not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran. In addition, contractors and subcontractors are prohibited from discharging or otherwise discriminating against applicants or employees who inquire about, discuss or disclose their compensation or that of others, subject to certain limitations.

Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) mission is to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of the nation's workforce. The agency enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. WHD also enforces the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, wage garnishment provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, and a number of employment standards and worker protections as provided in several immigration related statutes.

Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS)

The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service prepares America's veterans, service members and their spouses, for meaningful careers, provide them with employment resources and expertise, protect their employment rights and promote their employment opportunities.

There are also typically whistleblower protections related to union activity at an employer.

Employees of the government and government contractors have stronger protections for whistleblowers than most employees.

The Wage and Hour division whistleblowing rules might apply, but that would depend upon detailed facts not present in the question about the exact nature of the errors in the payroll system.

Whistleblower protections might apply under the Sarbanes–Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002, but typically that protects only employees of large or publicly held companies. Similarly, whistleblower protections arising from securities laws are typically only applicable to publicly held companies or companies that are going public.

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    Is it even "whistleblowing" if you report a problem internally? I thought that was about notifying regulators or the public.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 13:54
  • @Barmar, I would be inclined to think not, from the perspective of legal whistleblower protections. However, you could still have whistleblowing in an English-language sense in the form of reporting peers' or superiors' misbehavior internally to someone higher up in the same organization. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 14:29
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    What about state and US Department of Labor? Employer may be cowed by the hint that such agencies could start an investigation. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 15:26
  • @PhilFreedenberg The five examples listed in the quotes are subordinate agencies to the Department of Labor.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:45
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    Many companies have their own policies for reporting problems internally like this. In many cases, an employee who is dismissed in violation of those polices has a case for wrongful termination, even though those policies aren't themselves law.
    – bta
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 19:25

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