1. What legal protection does Georgia provide private sector employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?
Georgia is one of only a handful of states to strictly follow the at-will employment doctrine. Georgia courts do not recognize a public policy wrongful discharge action. The Georgia Courts have ruled that exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine must be created by the legislature, not the courts. Thus, in Georgia, 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.
The Georgia General Assembly 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: discrimination against disabled persons, and sex discrimination.
In addition to the above state protections, federal law provides workers with additional protections. Furthermore, a private contract or collective bargaining agreement may also protect employees from certain forms of retaliation.
2. What activities does state law protect, and to whom does this protection apply?
Public Employees: Public employers may not retaliate against an employee who has placed a complaint in order to prevent fraud, abuse or misuse of public funds. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-1-4.
Discrimination Against Disabled Persons: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for opposing an employment practice that violates the Georgia Equal Employment for Persons With Disabilities Code. Also, an employee may not be discharged for filing a complaint under that statute or for participating in an investigation/proceeding to enforce the statute. Ga. Code Ann. § 34-6A-5.
Sex Discrimination: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for filing a complaint alleging sexual discrimination in employment practices. Also, an employee may not be discharged in retaliation for instituting proceedings, or testifying at a proceeding, concerning sexual discrimination. Also, an employer that retaliates may be punished by a fine of up to $100. Ga. Code Ann. § 34-5-3(c).
3. How do I file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Georgia?
Public Employees: An employee may file a lawsuit in a superior court within one year of discovering a retaliatory act or within 3 three years of the act, whichever is earlier. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-1-4e.
Discrimination Against Disabled Persons: An employee may file a lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit must be filed within 180 days of the retaliatory action. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer immediately.
Sex Discrimination: An employee may file a lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit must be filed within one year of the retaliatory action. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer immediately.