The Elizabeth Holmes Trial, Workplace Toxicity & Employer Retaliation: What Are Your Employee Rights to Speak Up?

Small Business - September 30, 2021
Unhappy or worried employee

Who is Elizabeth Holmes, and why is she on trial?

Elizabeth Holmes is the former CEO of Theranos, a company that claimed to have created a blood test that only required a patient’s drop of blood to test for thousands of different conditions.

Theranos was considered a Silicon Valley unicorn and was valued at $9 billion. Multiple A-list companies and individuals had invested in the company before it was exposed for fraud. As it turned out, the blood test machine wasn’t accurate in its diagnosis results and was not working correctly.

During 2015 and 2016, the company came crashing down. Elizabeth Holmes stepped down as CEO and was charged with “massive fraud” for her role in covering up the product’s shortcomings. Her trial began in late August.

How did Theranos get exposed to the public?

Theranos was exposed because of whistleblowers who were employees of the company and knew something was not right.

One former employee, Erika Cheung, who had quit because she had witnessed the fraud in the company and later exposed the truth to the media, testified in the trial.

You have the right to speak up in the workplace.

There’s a lot to unpack with this story, but one important legal aspect is your employee rights to speak up. Suppose you experience or witness something at work that is unethical. In that case, you should gather your facts and questions, have a private conversation with your immediate supervisor, and follow the business’ policy for misconduct.

What to know about employer retaliation

While speaking up should be encouraged, many employees fear that the company will retaliate against them for exposing them. This happened to the whistleblowers at Theranos, Cheung reported. Retaliation can look like many different things, but here are some concrete examples of it:

  • Firing an employee.
  • Changing the employee’s role.
  • Transferring the employee to a different location.
  • Reducing their salary.
  • Denying them a promotion.
  • Making threats to do any of these things.

Fear of retaliation is a key reason many people are afraid to speak up when they witness or experience something unethical. This fear is all too common in harassment cases as well. If you think you are being retaliated against, here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your employer specific questions about why the adverse action took place. Do they have a reasonable explanation?
  • If they do not, voice your concerns that you are being retaliated against.
  • If they deny it (which is probable), escalate the issue by going to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s fair employment agency.
  • Talk to your lawyer about legal actions to take and the next steps.

Talk to a provider lawyer about your employee rights.

It’s so important to speak up at work, but many are scared to do so for fear of retaliation. What these people don’t know is that the law should protect them from being retaliated against. Talk to your provider lawyer about your employee rights and what to do if you are in this situation.


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