1. What legal protection does Idaho provide private sector employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?
The general rule is that most employees may be fired at any time for any reason or for no reason at all under what is known as the at-will employment doctrine. However, in the past half-century, many exceptions to the general rule have emerged. Exceptions to this general rule can come from two sources: (1) courts, which modify and make "common law protections" or (2) the legislature, which enacts "statutory protections." Statutory protections tend to be specific, addressing certain subject areas (such as discrimination, workers' compensation, etc.). Yet, legislators often lack the foresight to address every possible situation of retaliation. Common law protections, on the other hand, tend to "fill the gaps" where no statute exists for a given situation.
Common Law Protections
Idaho recognizes a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. An employer may not discharge an employee for a reason that contravenes public policy. An employee has a cause of action in other words, the employee may sue for wrongful discharge when the motivation for the discharge violates public policy.
To determine what constitutes public policy, Idaho courts will look to statutes and constitutional provisions to determine if a given practice has been endorsed (e.g. the right to collect workers' compensation benefits) or prohibited (e.g. criminal laws prohibiting perjury). So, for example, because an Idaho statute endorses an employee's right to collect workers' compensation benefits, an employer who retaliates against an employee for invoking that right would likely be contravening public policy. On the other side of the same coin, because criminal statutes prohibit perjury, an employer who coerces an employee to commit perjury by threats of reprisal is also contravening Idaho's public policy. In both situations, employees are protected from retaliatory discharge. Whistleblowers have received some protection under the public policy exception.
In addition, the Idaho 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: discrimination, farm labor contractor licensing, minimum wage, public employees, sanitation facilities, and wage discrimination (equal pay).
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?
Common Law Protections
An employee may not be discharged for a reason that contravenes public policy. There are three general categories that constitute protected activities:
- Refusing to commit an unlawful act
- Performing an important public obligation
- Exercising certain rights or privileges
Specifically, Idaho employees have been protected from retaliatory discharge for the following:
- Reporting illegal activities performed by an employer or fellow employees
- Complying with a court-order
- Reporting unsafe medical practices
Internal reports made to supervisors are protected under the public policy exception.
Discrimination: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for opposing an unlawful discriminatory practice. Nor may an employee be discriminated against in retaliation for making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation concerning unlawful discrimination. Idaho's anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability. Idaho Code § 67-5911.
Farm Labor Contractor Licensing: An employee of a farm labor contractor may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for making a claim against the farm labor contractor, testifying in a proceeding, or discussing the employee's rights under Idaho's laws concerning farm labor contractor licensing. Idaho Code § 44-1615.
Minimum Wage: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for making a complaint, instituting a proceeding, or testifying in a proceeding concerning violations of Idaho's minimum wage laws. Idaho Code § 44-1509.
Public Employees: An employee of the state may not be discharged (or discriminated against) for reporting waste or fraud. Idaho Code §§ 6-2101 to 2109
Sanitation Facilities: An employee of a farm operator or farm labor contractor may not be discharged (or retaliated against) for instituting a proceeding, or testifying in a proceeding under Idaho's laws concerning sanitation facilities for farm workers. Under these laws, farm operators must provide one clean toilet facility for every 40 workers. Idaho Code § 44-1904.
Wage Discrimination (Equal Pay): An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for invoking the protections of, or assisting in the enforcement of Idaho's equal pay laws. Under these laws, discrimination in wages on the basis of sex is prohibited. Idaho Code § 44-1702.
3. How do I file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Idaho?
Generally: An employee may file a wrongful discharge lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit likely must be filed within 2 years of the retaliatory action, unless otherwise specified by statute. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer.
Discrimination: An employee may file a complaint with the Idaho Commission on Human Rights (IHRC). A complaint must be filed within 1 year of the retaliatory action. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact IHRC immediately at:
Idaho Commission on Human Rights
1109 Main St. Ste. 400
PO Box 83720
Boise, ID 83720-0040
Phone: (208) 334-2873
Toll Free: (888) 249-7025
TDD/TTY: (208) 334-4751
FAX: (208) 334-2664
The IHRC has made a Charge of Discrimination Complaint Form available on their web site as a PDF file.
Public Employees: An employee may file a claim within 180 days of the violation in the appropriate court. Idaho Code § 6-2105. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer.