State Reps. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) and Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) today announced they will introduce new whistleblower reforms for employees who come forward to report wrongdoing and corruption to authorities. The announcement follows explosive, far-reaching corruption cases that have rocked state government over the past year.
“When someone blows the whistle on corruption in state government, it’s our duty to listen, hold officials accountable and ensure the little guy is protected,” said Cera. “In some ways, we’ve become numb to the scandals and cover-ups because those who try to do the right thing are too often silenced—and that needs to change.”
Current Ohio law recognizes public and private sector employees who blow the whistle on potentially corrupt activities, but it provides them few protections from retribution, retaliation and loss of earnings and compensation for doing the right thing.
“This past year has seen one scandal after another, with high-ranking state officials looking the other way while taxpayer dollars were wasted and used to line the pockets of ECOT mastermind Bill Lager. They must be held accountable to Ohio taxpayers,” said Clyde. “By protecting those who report wrongdoing, we can begin to take on the culture of corruption that has plagued state government for too long. It’s time for a change.”
Cera and Clyde’s plan would simplify reporting, broaden coverage of protected disclosures, better protect whistleblowers from all forms of retaliation, increase the time to bring suit for retaliation, and improve remedies for those who experience retaliation. Here are some provisions the bill will include:
-Protects an employee who refuses to participate in, or remain silent about, any illegal activity. Current law only protects an employee who reports specified offenses that the employee believes are criminal offenses.
-Eliminates the requirement that a report must be made pursuant to a specific process to be protected under the law.
-Eliminates the requirement that a report must be made to specified individuals or entities to be protected under the law.
-Expands the remedies a whistleblower may receive to include any other damages to which the employee may be entitled, including compensation for pain and suffering
-Entitles a whistleblower who prevails in a lawsuit to reasonable attorney fees and costs. Current law allows but does not require a court to award reasonable attorney fees and costs to a prevailing party.
-Increases the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit under the statute from 180 days to at least one year after the retaliatory action was taken.
“Ohio has one of the worst whistleblower laws in America,” said Fred Gittes, an employment law expert and local attorney who has worked with the lawmakers to draft the bill. “In most instances, you have to report verbally and in writing to your own employer instead of being able to go to the appropriate government enforcement authority. That’s a serious deterrent to employees reporting wrongdoing.”
Over a year ago, an ECOT whistleblower came forward to the Department of Education and Auditor Dave Yost, alleging tens of millions of dollars in fraud against the taxpayers at the now defunct online charter school.
“What happened at ECOT over the last eighteen years, when one-hundred and eight-nine million dollars were taken to educate kids who were never there, is outrageous,” said Steve Dyer, the Innovation Ohio Policy fellow who spoke at the news conference. “The fact that people just looked the other way, and employees didn’t feel empowered to come forward and speak out against the obvious corruption going on, speaks to the weakness in leadership at the state level and the weakness of our state whistleblower laws. Strong whistleblower laws give you protection against this kind of public corruption.”
In the last year, employees vocalized problems with the Department of Administrative Service’s rigged, no-bid IT contract scheme that saw tens of millions in misspent taxpayer dollars handed out with little to no oversight.
An ongoing FBI investigation into activities surrounding payday lending regulation shows that we do not have the tools in place to empower those who encounter wrongdoing to speak out. Anonymous statehouse employees turned to a Statehouse political blog to share details related to the FBI investigation into and resignation of their former boss, Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville).
The lawmakers plan on introducing the bill to reform Ohio’s 20-year old whistleblower law in the coming weeks.
Watch the whistleblower news conference in its entirety here: http://www.ohiochannel.org/video/press-conference-lawmakers-announce-state-whistleblower-reforms