| Read Time: 4 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

What Does the U.S. Office of Special Counsel Do?

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is a federal agency that focuses on helping whistleblowers. The OSC primarily investigates claims of whistleblower retaliation and, if necessary, takes action against bad actors. Thus, the OSC plays a critical role in protecting whistleblowers and encouraging them to report bad actors. Read on to learn more about the OSC’s methods and how to file a complaint. If you are considering filing an OSC complaint, you should contact a qualified employment law attorney first.  What Exactly Does the OSC Do? The OSC is an independent federal agency that looks into claims of government wrongdoing. It also accepts complaints from whistleblowers, protects them from retaliation, and holds bad actors accountable across the government. The OSC also investigates claims of prohibited personnel practices. This category includes things like illegal discrimination, nepotism, and forcing employees to engage in political activity. Because of its unique mission, the OSC can force federal employees and agencies to cooperate in an investigation. It can also force federal employees to testify in court and reveal important and relevant documents. A nd unlike many other federal agencies that investigate claims, the OSC protects whistleblower’s personal information.  What Kinds of Wrongdoing Does the OSC Review? When it comes to claims of wrongdoing, there are six major kinds of whistleblower disclosures that the OSC reviews: Gross mismanagement—This phrase does not include a minor mistake by your manager once in a while. Gross mismanagement exists if there is a constant pattern of arbitrary action, fraud, or abuse by your manager that has a notable economic impact.  Gross waste of funds—Like gross mismanagement, this phrase refers to significant expenses that make no sense. An expense that reasonable people might disagree about generally will not make the cut.  Violation of a law, rule, or regulation—This category is mostly self-explanatory. It does not matter whether the wrongdoer acted intentionally or not.  Censorship—OSC specifically focuses on censorship claims that have to do with scientific, technical, or analytical information. One example might be a government scientist who disputes an agency’s decision to classify environmental research about a terrible ecological threat to humanity.  Substantial and specific dangers to public health or safety—In any free country, the public has a right to know about significant dangers. So the OSC protects whistleblowers who reveal these dangers as long as the dangers are not vague or insignificant. Abuse of authority—As with gross mismanagement and gross waste of funds, there needs to be a significant degree of abuse. This may mean there is a regular pattern of abuse, or a single instance that was completely out of line.  When in doubt, it is better to come forward with a claim of wrongdoing rather than ignore it. If you are debating whether to report wrongdoing, contact a federal whistleblower attorney for guidance first.  What is a Prohibited Personnel Practice? Federal law defines 14 prohibited personnel practices (PPPs). These include the following: Asking for or considering recommendations for employment for reasons other than a person’s qualifications for the job; Deceiving or preventing someone from competing for federal employment; Coercing someone to engage in political activity, like donating to a campaign fund; Retaliating against someone for filing a complaint or exercising their rights; Retaliating against someone for reporting wrongdoing; Discriminating against someone because of conduct unrelated to their job; Taking a personnel action against a federal employee for improper or illegal reasons; Taking a personnel action that would violate a U.S. veteran’s preference; Carrying out a nondisclosure agreement or policy that does not give rights to whistleblowers; Illegal discrimination, including race, sex, gender, age, color, and national origin discrimination; Nepotism, which means hiring a person because of their family relationships rather than their qualifications for the job; Influencing someone to withdraw from competing for a government position; Giving unauthorized preference to a person for employment, either to improperly help them or improperly injure the chances of another person; and Accessing a person’s medical record, especially if doing so to further another PPP. As you can see, some of these categories are very broad. Thankfully, a qualified attorney will be able to help you determine whether your situation falls within one of these categories. How Do I File a Disclosure of Wrongdoing to the OSC? The OSC used to offer three different complaint forms online. Depending on the type of claim you were filing, you had to use a different complaint form. More recently, the OSC introduced a new form for all complaints called OSC Form-14.  You can fill out a copy of OSC Form-14 online and submit it on the OSC’s website. However, you should know that filling out a complaint in a way with the OSC that best correlates to the law is complicated. To maximize the chances of your claim being investigated, consult an attorney to help you file out the form.  We Can Help You File an OSC Complaint or Defend Your Rights Whether you’re considering filing a complaint or suffering whistleblower retaliation, you should obtain legal assistance. Many government wrongdoers will go to great lengths to protect themselves and punish anyone trying to expose their misdeeds. Intimidation and threats are all too common. On top of that, the procedures and laws surrounding whistleblower complaints are quite complex.  If you’re looking for an experienced federal employment lawyer, you have come to the right place. Our team at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC has tremendous experience with whistleblower and PPP complaints before the OSC. We can help apply the law to your case, inform you of your legal options, and provide you with outstanding legal representation. Let’s work together to defend your rights and get your fair compensation. Time is critical, so don’t wait another second. Call us at 866-612-5956 today. You can also reach out to us online.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

What Should Whistleblowers Know Before They Act?

Whistleblowers are underappreciated heroes, and calling out wrongdoing in the federal workplace is a noble action. However, it is not something you should do lightly. Before you do anything, you need to know what a whistleblower is. On top of that, it is vital that you understand your rights as a whistleblower before you act.  So if you are considering reporting wrongdoing, read this whistleblower guide carefully. We will discuss the definition of a whistleblower and the protections that a whistleblower action provides. You should also contact one of our attorneys at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC for specific legal advice regarding your situation. What Whistleblowers Should Know First: The Definition of a Whistleblower The most important thing you need to know is what makes you a whistleblower according to the law. In other words, to become a whistleblower, what actions do you need to take?  In the federal workplace, you need to make a “protected disclosure” to qualify for whistleblower protections. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines a “protected disclosure” as “any disclosure of information that an employee, former employee, or applicant for employment” reasonably believes shows one or more of the following: Violation of any law, rule, or regulation, Gross waste of funds, Substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, Gross mismanagement, or Abuse of authority. This means that complaining about your boss’s curt comment or your coworker’s annoying personal habits will probably not rise to the level of “protected disclosure.”  However, these terms use broad wording intentionally to encompass a wide variety of other inappropriate behaviors.  When crafting these laws, Congress sought to give federal employees the benefit of the doubt in a whistleblower action. One of the ways they accomplished this goal was by requiring that whistleblowers only “reasonably believe” the information they passed along constituted evidence of misconduct. Put another way, if you disclose alleged misconduct in whistleblower action that turns out not to be prohibited behavior upon further investigation, you still receive whistleblower protection as long you reasonably believed the behavior was inappropriate.  Whistleblower Protections Federal law protects whistleblowers from any and all retaliatory “personnel actions.” But what is a personnel action? Federal law defines that phrase to include the following: A position appointment, A promotion, A detail, transfer, or reassignment, A restoration, A performance evaluation, A change in pay, A change in benefits, and An award. Orders to undergo psychiatric testing or examination and “any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions” are also personnel actions. That means that if your employer demotes you, changes your duties, rescinds an award, or gives you a bad performance review because of your disclosure, they have broken the law.  How Should I Disclose Wrongdoing? The law does not require whistleblowers to make a protected disclosure to a certain person. On the contrary, whistleblowers have wide latitude on how to make a protected disclosure. For example, they can disclose wrongdoing to their first-line supervisor or second-line supervisor. They can also disclose wrongdoing to their agency’s Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), or even Congress itself. You will receive whistleblower protections as long as you reasonably believe that your whistleblower action reveals misconduct. Can I Choose to Remain Anonymous? It depends. When you make a protected disclosure to the OSC, you can choose to remain anonymous. Furthermore, most agencies’ Inspector General offices have anonymous hotlines that you can use to make a protected disclosure. But the OSC can publicly reveal your identity if they determine it necessary because of imminent danger to public health or safety. Further, if you want to claim whistleblower retaliation, you must generally show that your whistleblowing contributed to the retaliatory action. This may be harder to show if you remain anonymous.  Can Probationary Employees Receive Whistleblower Protections? Yes. Federal employees are considered “probationary employees” for their first year of federal service. As probationers, they enjoy far fewer rights than non-probationary employees. For example, probationary employees cannot appeal adverse actions, including terminations, to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). However, probationary employees can appeal alleged acts of retaliation for whistleblowing to the MSPB. Consult a Lawyer Before You Become a Whistleblower Even though most people applaud whistleblowers, becoming one can change your career forever. Unfortunately, whistleblower retaliation is an all too common sight in the federal workplace. So before you make a protected disclosure, it’s best to reach out for legal advice from an experienced federal employment attorney.  Here at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, our talented legal team can help you file a complaint with the OSC or your employer. We can also verify that your complaint meets the standard of a “protected disclosure” so that you can qualify as a whistleblower. With our decades of experience protecting federal employees, we know what retaliation looks like and how to fight it. So we are prepared to defend you aggressively against retaliation by your employer and protect your rights.  Don’t risk your federal career by going it alone. Reach out online or call us at 833-833-3529 to set up a free initial consultation today.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

How to File an OSC Complaint Under the Whistleblower Protection Act

Most of us would like to live in a world where whistleblowers are free from retaliation. However, the cold, hard truth is that whistleblowers come under attack all the time because of their efforts to clean up the government.  Congress was well aware of this fact when it passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) in 1985. Thanks to the WPA, the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has the power to protect whistleblower employees by investigating claims of whistleblower retaliation. That said, filing an OSC complaint isn’t easy.  In this article, we’ll go over how you can file an OSC whistleblower complaint and how to ensure that you’re eligible to file an OSC complaint. We’ll also touch on what you can expect from the OSC complaint process. However, if you have more questions or think that you are the target of whistleblower retaliation because you called out your government employer, contact a qualified federal employment attorney right away.  How Do I Know If I’m Eligible to File an OSC Complaint? To file an OSC complaint, you need to meet four requirements. Verifying that you meet these requirements will ensure that the OSC properly reviews your complaint and does not screen it out.  Requirement #1: Current or Former Employee of the U.S. Government’s Executive Branch The OSC doesn’t protect private sector whistleblowers. It also doesn’t have any jurisdiction over whistleblowing complaints filed by employees of the military, CIA, NSA, or FBI. Requirement #2: Protected Disclosure To qualify as a whistleblower, an employee must make a “protected disclosure.” A federal employee makes a protected disclosure when they blow the whistle on an agency action that they reasonably believe to be: A violation of law, rule, or regulation; A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; Censorship related to research, analysis, or technical information; Gross mismanagement; Gross waste of funds; or An abuse of authority. Simply reporting your boss for being rude or micromanaging your team doesn’t qualify as a protected disclosure. The action or behavior that you report must fit into one of the categories listed above.  Requirement #3: Adverse Action By Agency Obviously, a claim of whistleblower retaliation requires that the employer act against the employee. Retaliation can take on many forms, including: Removal, Reassignment, Change of duties, Demotion, and Denial of leave requests Just threatening to take negative action against an employee also counts as an adverse action.  Requirement #4: The Agency’s Adverse Action Is Connected to Your Protected Disclosure When you submit your OSC complaint, you need to be able to demonstrate that the action your agency took against you was caused by your protected disclosure. You can prove this through emails, letters, video evidence, or even the timing between the two events.  If you meet these four requirements, you’re probably eligible to file an OSC complaint under the Whistleblower Protection Act.  How to File an OSC Complaint Under the Whistleblower Protection Act To submit a complaint of whistleblower retaliation, you need to fill out and submit a copy of OSC Form 14. Filling out the form is quite a long process. Be ready to fill in your contact information, whether you’re covered by a collective bargaining agreement, your current employment status, and the specific protected disclosures that you made. Because of the complexity of the form, we recommend that you consult an attorney to ensure that your complaint is submitted successfully.   How Long Does OSC Take to Process a Whistleblower Complaint? There’s no easy answer to this question. The time it takes for OSC to process and investigate your complaint depends on the complexity of your allegations, the amount of evidence you have, and other factors. That being said, you can expect the process to take between120 days and 240 days.   Do You Need Legal Counsel Because You’re the Target of Whistleblower Retaliation? OSC investigates whistleblower complaints as a matter of government policy. However, an OSC examiner is under no obligation to represent your personal interests. That’s why you need an attorney on your side if you’re planning to file an OSC complaint.  The Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC understands the invaluable service that whistleblowers provide to our country. Our goal is to provide outstanding representation to anyone brave enough to call out injustice and wrongdoing in the federal workplace. Once one of our attorneys takes up your case, we’ll go the extra mile to defend your rights against your employer. We’ll also fight to ensure that the OSC takes your complaint seriously and properly investigates your complaint.  Still a little hesitant to contact an attorney? Don’t be. You have nothing to lose because all our initial consultations are free. Don’t wait. Call us today at 833-833-3529 or contact us online.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017: What Potential Whistleblowers Need to Know

For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced criticism over its ability to serve veterans effectively. Reports from the VA’s Inspector General dating back to 2006 note problems with malpractice, mismanagement, and corruption. Despite a budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, some VA facilities continued to provide lackluster care and support for veterans. President Trump signed into law The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 as a way to address some of these issues. Since then, this Act has been used as a “fast track” to disciplinary actions against VA employees, many of them low to mid-level employees. The Act has faced much criticism since its enactment and it has caused many problems, however, one silver lining is the protection it provides to whistleblowers. The Act provides important rights to VA employees who blow the whistle on mismanagement within the VA. What Is the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act? The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act is a federal law designed to better regulate the VA. The Act established the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) within the VA to improve its service to veterans. The OAWP’s purpose is to hold VA officials and employees accountable for their actions in running the VA. The OAWP also provides oversight to ensure the proper treatment of whistleblowers who expose poor management or misconduct within the VA. One important change the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act made was the shortened deadline for appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which was reduced from 30 calendar days to 10 business days.  What Is a Protected Whistleblower Disclosure? The Act protects both current and prospective employees of the VA when they disclose certain information. There are two main classes of information that qualify for whistleblower protection under the Act: Disclosures of evidence of a violation of law, rule, or regulation; and Disclosures of evidence of gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. The Act protects whistleblowers by requiring the VA to develop criteria used to evaluate the performance of supervisory employees. The Act requires these criteria to promote the protection of whistleblowers, by improving how reported concerns are addressed and how whistleblowers are treated. In other words, VA employees in supervisory roles must maintain an environment that encourages employees to report misconduct without fear of retaliation or discipline for doing so. The whistleblower protections offered under the Act prohibit prosecution or reprisal against VA whistleblowers if their disclosures are lawful. All disclosures reported to Congress, the VA Inspector General, or another investigatory agency (like the OAWP or EEOC) are lawful. How Do I File for Whistleblower Protection? Whistleblower protection under the VA Accountability and Protection Act applies automatically to employees of the VA who have filed a complaint of whistleblower retaliation to either the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) or OAWP.   The OAWP offers an online intake form for fast, anonymous reporting. After affirming your employment status with the VA and the nature of your complaint, you can describe the retaliation or misconduct and submit the complaint.  A complaint with the OAWP is not appropriate for allegations involving laws administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), such as claims of discrimination or disparate treatment. A complaint should be filed with the EEOC for allegations of discrimination, harassment, or a hostile work environment and you should get in contact with an EEOC lawyer right away, VA whistleblowers can also file complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) if they witness prohibited personnel practices by another federal employee. Federal law prohibits 14 specific kinds of conduct, known as prohibited personnel practices (PPPs), by federal employers. The PPPs range from discrimination and harassment to hiring others based on their relationship to the hirer (i.e. nepotism). A VA whistleblower attorney can help you decide where you should file your complaint based on your situation. Depending on the nature and severity of the misconduct you experience, you may be able to obtain better remedies filing in one office versus another. How Long Do You Have to File a Whistleblower Complaint? In many cases, a whistleblower should file their complaint as soon as possible. This is due to the enactment of protections which can be extremely helpful if initiated early. An effective whistleblower complaint is thorough but direct and contains sufficient, clear evidence to support your claims. Submitting a complaint too soon may result in less evidence at the beginning, but you can continue to provide additional information as the claim develops. A VA whistleblower attorney can help you determine when you should file your complaint and what you should expect during the process. A whistleblower attorney can also provide you with practical advice regarding protecting your identity and what you should do if you face retaliation for coming forward. Contact a Department of Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Attorney Whistleblowers play an important role in holding government agencies accountable. At The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we focus on a variety of issues that affect federal employees, including whistleblower complaints. If you’ve witnessed misconduct at the VA or the federal agency where you work, we can help you blow the whistle. Contact us today or give us a call at (833) 833-3529 to schedule a free consultation about your case.

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