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Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) is a federal law that generally addresses corporate securities and compensation and also imposes harsh consequences, including fines and imprisonment, on publicly traded companies that retaliate against whistleblowers. That provision of the Act appears to include employees’ complaints to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Audit your policies and practices on retaliation avoidance with the Employment Practices Self-Audit Workbook

Civil penalties under SOX include reinstating the whistleblowing employee to the same position with the same seniority status, back pay with interest, and compensatory damages, including attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act also provides for criminal penalties for individuals who knowingly retaliate against whistleblowers who have provided any truthful information to a law enforcement officer relating to the commission (or possible commission) of a federal offense.

Individuals who violate that provision may be subjected to fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. Significantly, those criminal penalties aren’t limited to publicly traded companies but, rather, apply to all individuals and employers.

Given the potential consequences to supervisors in their individual capacities and you as an employer, you must instruct your supervisors to report to HR any complaints regarding criminal or fraudulent activity. They also should be instructed to report any incidents they have observed personally. That includes violations of your business policies, ethical standards, accounting practices, and codes of corporate conduct.

HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including discrimination