House Bill Would Strengthen Whistleblower Protections
Leaders in West Virginia’s House of Delegates say they plan to strengthen a number of ethics laws in West Virginia this legislative session. The first piece of legislation making its way through that chamber this year is House Bill 2006, increasing penalties for violating the state’s Whistle-Blower Law.
A whistleblower is someone who notifies the authorities when a person or organization they work for is involved in some kind of illegal activity. West Virginia’s Whistle-Blower Law protects a public employee from retaliation after coming forward about abuse from his or her employer.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, of Mercer County, is the bill’s lead sponsor. He says the penalties currently on the books for an employer who violates this law – or retaliates against the employee doing the whistleblowing – is a fine of up to $500 as well as a suspension from his or her job for up to six months. But Shott says House Bill 2006 changes that.
“It gives them a greater penalty, and it also increases the monetary penalty from $500 to $5,000, but it takes it out of the hands of the judge except to make a finding, and puts it back in the hands of the public agency to take the action against the offender,” Shott said.
The bill makes it clear that the offender would have to personally pay the fine. Instead of the six month suspension, the bill gives the public agency the option to completely terminate any employee who tries to discourage or punish a whistleblower.
“A person who reports misconduct or waste should not be retaliated against," Shott said, "and this just strengthens the protection of those people so they feel comfortable coming forward if the penalties for someone who retaliates against them are strengthened.”
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, of Monongalia County, is the Minority Chair for House Judiciary. She says she thinks the bill is a great improvement, adding her name to the legislation as a co-sponsor.
“If we have somebody that comes forward and says there’s fraud, there’s abuse going on, and then they’re retaliated against, I think they’re doing something that helps the public, and so I think that making the person who is retaliating personally liable is the way it should be," Fleischauer noted, "The taxpayers shouldn’t have to cover the cost of the fine. I think it’s a really good bill.”
Fleischauer says this bill is an example of how legislators can work in a bipartisan way to create better policy in the state.
Chairman Shott says this ethics bill will be one of several to come before the House this session.