When whistleblowers come forward to expose wrongdoing within a company, it is important that there be protections for those reporting the misdeeds. Too often whistleblowers face retaliation, including harassment at work, threats, or wrongful termination.
Even more extreme, sometimes laws are put in place that punish whistleblowers rather than the companies accused of wrongdoing.
Such is the case in Idaho where the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals struck down part of a law meant to prevent undercover investigations in livestock and meatpacking plants. The court determined that the law, known more commonly as the “ag gag” law, violated the right to free speech under the First Amendment by too broadly restricting the ability to record and report issues within the industry, according to a report from The Associated Press.
The court issued a decision in the case of Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al v. Wasden which stated the Interference with Agricultural Production law in Idaho “criminalized innocent behavior” and “was staggeringly overbroad.”
Interference with Agricultural Production law, Idaho Code 18-7042 forbids anyone from obtaining employment with an agricultural production facility “by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility’s operations …” It further outlines the creation of audio or video recordings documenting the conduct within an agricultural production facility as a violation of the law.
The purpose of the law was to prevent investigative journalists from lying so they could get jobs in plants with the intent of exposing animal abuse and other questionable food chain practices. The court upheld the portion of the law covering misrepresentation to either obtain records or gain employment. However, it determined that restrictions were overly broad and violated First Amendment rights and struck down the ban on audio and video recordings.
Our Orange County whistleblower rights attorneys know it’s a slippery slope when we restrict employees from speaking up about corporate misdeeds. The law should have always remained focused on curbing misrepresentation during the hiring process, but instead became wide-sweeping legislation that hurts employees and keeps questionable practices in the dark. The court made the right call by separating these issues. Our legal team has years of experience fighting for employee rights and whistleblowers, and we applaud those with the courage to come forward despite constant pressure to remain silent.
Corporations have a lot to gain from keeping practices in their facilities secret, and often will pressure politicians to serve their interests by passing laws that limit employee rights. Or, as is the case in Idaho, many law makers themselves are directly involved in agriculture. Limiting speech of employees, no matter how they acquired the job, and punishing them for recording and reporting violations is a dangerous move that deteriorates the rights of whistleblowers and limits their ability to shed light on wrongdoing.
Other states, including Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Missouri, also have laws to prevent covert investigations in meatpacking and livestock facilities, some of which also target investigators looking to record questionable practices inside facilities. Our legal team hopes this ruling will establish a case to roll back some of those laws and prevent other states from instituting measures that punish whistleblowers.
Federal Judge: Idaho Ag Gag Law is Unconstitutional, Jan. 4, 2018, By Associated Press
More Blog Entries:
Whistleblowers Have Rights Which Can Expose Employers to Liability, Sept. 10, 2017, Employment Lawyer Blog