1. What legal protection does Wyoming 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
Wyoming recognizes an extremely limited public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. An employer may not discharge an employee for a reason that violates a strong and well-established public policy. As a practical matter, however, Wyoming courts have only recognized the public policy exception in the context of workers' compensation claims.
In addition, the Wyoming Legislature has adopted narrow statutory protections for certain activities. Employees who engaged in protected activities under laws in the following subject areas are protected from retaliation: health care facility employees, long-term care service provider employees, occupational safety and health, 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 of the state. In practice, this protection only extends to workers' compensation claims.
Workers' Compensation: An employee may not be discharged in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. The employee must show that she was injured on the job and that she was terminated either for instituting proceedings under the Workers' Compensation Act or for seeking medical treatment that the employer knew about.
Health Care Facility Employees: An employee of a health care facility may not be harassed, threatened, disciplined, or discriminated against in retaliation for reporting violations of state or federal law to the designated division within the Wyoming Department of Health. Wyo. Stat. § 35-2-910(b).
Long-Term Care: An employee may not be discriminated against in retaliation for providing information to the long-term care ombudsman in furtherance of their duties. Wyo. Stat. § 9-2-1308.
Occupational Health and Safety: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for filing a notice of complaint, instituting a proceeding, testifying in a proceeding, or exercising rights (either personally or on behalf of another employee) under the Wyoming Occupational Health and Safety Act (WOHS Act). WOHS requires that employers provide a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. WOHS is not limited to actions taken by employers against their own employees. Wyo. Stat. § 27-11-109(e).
Wage Discrimination (Equal Pay): An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for making a complaint, instituting a proceeding, or testifying in a proceeding under Wyoming's Equal Pay laws. Under these laws, an employer may not discriminate on the basis of gender in the payment of wages. Employers who retaliate against employees for these reasons may be punished by a fine or imprisonment. Wyo. Stat. § 27-4-304.
3. How do I file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Wyoming?
Generally - Wrongful Termination: An employee may file a retaliatory discharge lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit must be filed within 4 years of the retaliatory action, unless otherwise specified by statute. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer.
Occupational Health and Safety: An employee may file a complaint with the Wyoming Department of Employment, Occupational Health and Safety Division. The complaint must be filed within 30 days of the retaliatory action. The Department will investigate and may seek appropriate relief on your behalf, including reinstatement with back pay. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact the Department of Employment immediately.
OSHA Main Office
1510 E. Pershing Blvd., West Wing
Cheyenne, WY 82002