1. What legal protection does Alabama provide private sector employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?
Alabama is one of only a handful of states to strictly follow the at-will employment doctrine. Alabama courts do not recognize a public policy wrongful discharge action. Thus, in Alabama, employers may discharge or alter an at-will employee's employment for any reason (including reasons that violate public policy) or no reason at all, unless that reason violates some statutory exception.
Although Alabama courts strictly follow the common law at-will employment doctrine, the Alabama Legislature has adopted narrow statutory protections for certain activities. Employees who engage in protected activities (usually filing a complaint or testifying) under laws in the following subject areas are protected from retaliation: age discrimination, child labor, workers' compensation.
Federal law also provides workers with additional protections. Furthermore, a private contract or collective bargaining agreement may also protect employees from certain forms of retaliation.
2. What legal protection does Alabama provide to state employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?
Alabama passed the State Employee Protection Act which provides protection to state employees engaged in protected activities. A state employee that makes a report to a public body of a violation of a law, regulation, or rule, promulgated pursuant to the laws of this state, or a political subdivision of this state, can't be discriminated against in their employment. Code of Ala. § 36-26A-3.
3. What activities does state law protect, and to whom does this protection apply?
Age Discrimination: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for opposing unlawful age discrimination. Nor may an employee be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Alabama law concerning age discrimination. These laws prohibit discrimination against workers 40 years of age and over. Ala. Code § 25-1-28.
Child Labor: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for opposing child labor law violations. Nor may an employee be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for disclosing violations, testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Alabama's child labor laws. Ala. Code § 25-8-57.
Workers' Compensation: An employee may not be discharged in retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim or a written notice of a violation of a safety rule. Ala. Code § 25-5-11.1.
4. How do I file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Alabama?
An employee may file a lawsuit in an appropriate court. Alabama does not give the employee the option of seeking recovery through a state agency. The lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the retaliatory action. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer.