Not everyone cares equally about the environment. However, federal environmental laws require all companies to adhere to certain environmental standards—regardless of an employer’s personal priorities. Nonetheless, oftentimes employers—deliberately or not—fail to uphold environmental standards in their business operations.
Let’s say you’re a factory worker at a paper mill. One night after your shift, you notice workers removing pulping sludge from the facility and dumping it in a nearby river. You fish in that river. Your community relies on it for fresh, drinking water. As an employee relatively low on the totem pole, what recourse do you have?
Single-handedly taking on a large corporation may seem like a daunting prospect. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. There are laws and institutions in place to support and protect you.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—and similar agencies at the state level—investigate reported violations of environmental regulation. You can file a claim with such an agency to report the infraction. In your report, you will need to detail the violation and provide evidence, if available.
Before filing such a claim, it can be worthwhile to consult with an environmental lawyer to help you understand the environmental laws and the types of violations worth addressing in your claim. They can also help you to compile and present your information appropriately. Having a professional in your court can also make you feel more confident going up against your employer.
It’s worth noting that if you bring a legitimate claim against your employer concerning pollution or other actions that illegally degrade the environment, you are protected from employer retaliation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Your employer cannot fire, demote or otherwise discipline you for reporting their violations of environmental law.
If you witness environmental wrongdoing, not only do you have a moral obligation to report it—you also face no risk by doing the right thing.