Irwin Introduces Bill to Close Whistleblower Protection Act Loophole

LANSING — Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced legislation to close a loophole in Michigan’s Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) exposed by a 2016 Michigan Supreme Court case.

In the case, Pace v. Edel-Harrelson, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ruled whistleblowers aren’t protected from retaliatory discharge claims if they report a planned violation of the law — only if they report a violation that is ongoing or one that has already occurred.

“Whistleblowers are doing a public service and we need to close this loophole to protect whistleblowers who take courageous action to protect people from harm,” Sen. Irwin said. “We say, “see something, say something,’ but the law doesn’t protect whistleblowers until somebody has already been hurt.”

The bill would close the loophole by adding language to the Whistleblower Protection Act to make the reporting of a suspected violation of the law that has yet to occur, a ‘protected activity.’ 

Irwin recognized this shortcoming in the law while serving on the Special Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Emergency. During those hearings, the Flint water treatment plant operator, Mike Glasgow, testified that he didn’t believe the city was ready to start treating drinking water, but he had no protections under the WPA and, to keep his job, complied with the orders from his supervisor.

“As the law stands, whistleblowers can be fired by their employers if they report a planned violation of the law or if they report a dangerous situation that has not yet caused actual harm,” Sen. Irwin added. “I hope my colleagues see the importance of this legislation and I look forward to working with them to advance this through our legislative process.”

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