Six Things Healthcare Workers Need to Know About the Massachusetts Health Care Worker Whistleblower Statute: Necessary Employee Protection Amidst the COVID-19 Fall-Out
In Massachusetts, the Health Care Worker Whistleblower Statute (formally known as M.G.L. c. 149, sec. 187) makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against their health care provider employees who report dangerous working conditions, and object to and/or refuse to partake in dangerous employment policies and/or practices that pose a public health risk to themselves or others. Retaliation against healthcare workers for “blowing the whistle” on unsafe conditions is nothing new in Massachusetts. In fact, healthcare workers are the only private employees in the Commonwealth who are protected from unlawful retaliation (demotion, termination, blackballing) for reporting safety violations. That concept is worth repeating – retaliation against healthcare workers for reporting unsafe conditions is so prevalent that the legislature created a specific statute for healthcare workers to discourage the disturbing and prevalent practice of retaliation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken the importance of whistleblowers to a whole new level. Widespread deaths in veteran’s homes across Massachusetts call into question not only the safety institution, but the “culture of silence” that kept the lid on things until it was too late; a culture so deeply embedded that healthcare workers would only speak to the press or the mayor’s office in Holyoke “on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.” These days, it is not exaggeration to say that blowing the whistle is a matter of life and death. Many of them. Protecting whistleblowers protects the community.