Does Reporting Drunk Firefighters Constitute Protected Activity Under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act?

Not necessarily.  The Minnesota Supreme Court addressed this question in Hedglin v. City of Willmar.  582 N.W.2d 897 (Minn. 1998).  The Minnesota Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliation when they report “a violation or suspected violation of any federal or state law or rule adopted pursuant to law.”  In Hedglin, the court held that an employee’s report that some firefighters were showing up to fire calls while drunk was not protected activity because, while reprehensible, no statute or rule prohibited that conduct.

On the other hand, the Hedglin court held that employees did engage in protected activity under the Whistleblower Act when they reported that other firefighters were falsifying roll call sheets and driving fire trucks while drunk.  The court concluded that those reports were protected because they involved violations of state laws prohibiting the theft of public funds and the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol.

Takeaway for Employers:  Just because an employee reports conduct that is immoral or reprehensible does not necessarily mean that the employee has engaged in protected activity under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.

About Michael Miller

Michael is a Chambers-rated attorney in Briggs and Morgan's Employment, Benefits, and Labor group and is head of the firm’s Employment Law Counseling and Compliance practice group. He has 25 years experience counseling employers to prevent unwanted litigation and advises companies of ongoing changes in federal, state and local employment law. Michael advises employers in all areas of employment law including discipline and discharge, leaves of absence, wage and hour compliance, non-compete and confidentiality agreements, affirmative action plans, background checking, and drug/alcohol testing. For Michael's full bio, click here.

Posted on November 22, 2011, in Retaliation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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