Consumer product and food safety regulations are vital to protect the public health by preventing injuries, illness, and even death from avoidable risks. When companies cut corners or ignore known problems in their production lines, consumers suffer and a business might itself be financially threatened by liability for its unlawful conduct. Whistleblowers in these fields who come forward perform an important, sometimes life-saving, service and help regulators protect the public from harm.
What Laws Protect Consumer Product & Food Safety Whistleblowers?
Consumer Product Safety Whistleblowers
In the wake of the scandals over lead paint found in toys leading to toy recalls, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which contains a provision to protect whistleblowers who speak up when they believe their employer has violated a consumer product safety (CPS) law. The law applies to manufacturers, private labelers, distributors, and retailers of consumer products, and prevents retaliation against employees who provide information about the violation of CPS laws to their employer or a government agency, or who refuse to participate in an activity they reasonably believe violates these laws.
Food Safety Whistleblowers
Although food safety whistleblowers cannot look to a single federal law for protection against retaliation for speaking up about or reporting food safety issues, a number of laws provide protection for employees who blow the whistle on food-safety violations.
Food Safety Modernization Act
Passed in January 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aimed to transform the FDA’s approach to food safety to one focused on prevention rather than response. The anti-retaliation provisions of the FSMA state that any employee engaged in the “manufacture, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding, or importation of food” may not retaliate against an employee because she either raised objections concerning FSMA violations at her workplace or reported behavior to the government that she reasonably believed constituted a violation of the FSMA.
Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) for Federal Employees
Under the WPA, most federal agencies and their supervisors may not take, or threaten to take, an adverse personnel action against any employee or applicant because of her disclosure of information about what she reasonably believes to be: a violation of a law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. This means that employees of government agencies that regulate food production and processing have statutory protections against supervisory retaliation.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), passed in November 2012, closed many loopholes that existed in the WPA. The law offers an array of protections to food safety whistleblowers at the USDA and FDA in situations where they might previously have suffered punishment for raising safety concerns. The WPEA ensures that federal employees are now protected from retaliation even in cases where the employee: is not the first person to disclose the misconduct; blows the whistle within the course of her job duties; makes the disclosure to a supervisor rather than an outside agency.
Wrongful Termination Laws at the State Level
Many states offer protection to whistleblowers in the food-production and food-processing industries, both through state whistleblower-protection statutes and through state-law doctrines prohibiting “wrongful termination in violation of public policy.” While state statutes differ in some ways, these laws generally make it illegal for an employer to terminate an employee because that employee either refused to engage in unlawful conduct or reported unlawful conduct on the part of the employer. These laws can offer protections against retaliation to food safety whistleblowers who take a stand against their employer’s illegal activity.
Why Hire Katz Banks Kumin for Your Consumer Product Safety or Food Safety Whistleblower Case?
Whether to report product-safety or food safety concerns — and, if so, when, how and to whom — can be a very difficult decision for an employee, as blowing the whistle on an employer’s unlawful practices can be a career-ending move. However, there are strong legal protections, and employees who raise product safety or food safety concerns can look to a number of resources for assistance. If you are thinking about reporting such concerns, or if you already have and are facing retaliation, contact the experienced whistleblower lawyers at Katz Banks Kumin. Your communications with us are confidential, and without charge or further obligation.