An overview of the whistleblower law that protects food industry employees
Buried in The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) are protections for many food industry workers from being fired, demoted or denied promotions or raises if they speak up about what they think are violations.
The law protects workers against retaliation for telling their employers or governmental officials about anything they reasonably believe violates the food safety act and for objecting to performing work they reasonably believe is illegal. The Department of Labor and federal courts can reinstate fired employees and award back pay, interest, attorneys’ fees and other damages. The burden of proof favors workers. All workers need to do initially is show their participation in protected activity may have contributed to repercussions. Employers face a heavier burden because they must then show with clear and convincing evidence that the company would have taken the same action even if the worker hadn’t been a whistleblower.
The law only covers food businesses regulated by the FDA. Workers in the meatpacking and poultry industries, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are not affected by these provisions. Those companies who are covered by the law have to make it safe for employees to report problems and need to know how to respond when workers come forward. Food whistleblower protection only protects “employees.” Employees have 180 days from the violation to file a complaint. If an employee’s complaint is found to be frivolous or in bad faith, the employee may be liable for attorneys’ fees and costs up to $1000.
Food industry workers have the legal right to speak out about violations involved with food processing, distribution, labeling, importation, and many more aspects of the food chain. The protections are aimed towards making America’s food safer for consumers by stopping outbreaks before they start.