Whistleblowers are those who expose organizations or other public or private bodies, providing information to prove their wrongful actions. To ensure that people are not dissuaded from acting if they discover that an organization is operating in an unethical or unlawful manner, there must be laws in place which ensure that they will not be retaliated against or treated unfairly if they do. Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989 to protect the rights of employees when holding governmental organizations accountable for acting in an immoral or illegal way. It allows federal employees to make disclosures of misconduct, as well as report instances of workplace retaliation.
Who is protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act?
Federal employees (both current and former), as well as applicants for federal employment, are all protected under the act. However, those contracted by the government are not. Others that are not protected under the act include military and Postal Service employees, among others. The United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigates claims and is responsible for safeguarding the merit system in federal employment by “protecting employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices.”
However, if a complaint of workplace retaliation comes from an intelligence agency including the CIA, FBI, or NSA, the OSC cannot provide protection. This is also true if the disclosure is expressly prohibited by law and required by Executive Order to be kept secret.
What kinds of claims should be reported to the OSC?
The OSC will review the following types of misconduct:
- breaking a law, policy, rule, or regulation
- gross mismanagement
- gross waste of funds
- abuse of authority
- substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
- retaliation after a disclosure has been made
If the OSC believes the disclosure to be factual, they will refer this to the agency head who has 60 days to investigate the claim and report back to the OSC. The whistleblower cannot disclose information anonymously. However, they can request that the OSC keeps their identity confidential. If a whistleblower feels as though they have been mistreated because they chose to disclose the information, they can also report this to the OSC, who will consider the evidence, investigate, and, if necessary, take corrective action.
What is workplace retaliation?
The following gives some examples of what workplace retaliation might involve:
- being fined or fired
- a reduction in salary
- a reduction in working hours
- being demoted or denied a promotion
- not being given access to benefits
- failure to hire or rehire
- threats, bribery intimidation or harassment
If you feel as though a federal organization is acting wrongfully, the Whistleblower Protection Act ensures that your rights are protected. Hiring a lawyer you can trust can ensure that you follow the correct process and can help you decipher whether you have a valid whistleblower claim. Call us for a free, confidential consultation at 614.398.2886 today.