If you have a position with the federal government, you have been entrusted with a high level of responsibility for all of us in this country.
Unfortunately, not every government employee or leader honors their obligation to respect the laws and the public with their service.
When a colleague or supervisor falls short of their legal obligations, you have the option (and sometimes the duty) to report their misconduct.
And if you are afraid your report will cause severe personal and professional harm, remember that federal whistleblower protection laws can shield you from the fallout of exposing bad behavior.
At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, we are dedicated to protecting and championing the rights of federal employees.
You deserve a strong advocate when you do the right thing, and we are here to shield your efforts to uncover misconduct in your workplace.
What Is Whistleblowing?
You are a whistleblower if you disclose information to an authority about any of the following activities occurring at work:
- An abuse of authority;
- Gross mismanagement;
- A gross waste of funds;
- Activity involving a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or
- A violation of any law, rule, or regulation.
Reporting these activities is protected, and even required, if a federal employer is being wasteful, fraudulent, abusive, or corrupt.
The law also protects federal employees from retaliation if they initiate a whistleblower complaint, refuse an employer’s request to break the law, or assist with a whistleblower complaint or investigation.
Many employees are understandably fearful of reporting their employer’s violations of the law to legal authorities because there’s a potential that their employer will punish them for their actions.
But the law provides federal employee whistleblower protection and avenues for federal employees to initiate legal action if they are unfairly penalized.
The Legislature passed the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA) to protect federal employees from professional harm motivated by their disclosure of misconduct.
The law recognizes the public benefit in preventing unfair punishment of government whistleblowers.
An employee has the right to formally complain if an employer takes any of the following actions against you because of your whistleblowing:
- Reduction in pay,
- Denial of restoration,
- Reduction in grade,
- Refusal to hire,
- Denial of reemployment,
- Reduction in force,
- Performance evaluation,
- Reassignment, and
- Other disciplinary or corrective action.
The whistleblower laws also protect and provide legal options for applicants for federal employment.
If you signed a non-disclosure agreement before or during your employment with a federal agency, have an experienced attorney review the terms.
While your federal employer can require you to sign and comply with non-disclosure agreements, the WPEA prohibits agreements that conflict with whistleblower protection laws.
Where to Report Employer Wrongdoing
Once you are aware that your employer has committed a violation, you can report the wrongdoing to your supervisor/management, the Inspector General (IG) for your agency, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), or Congress.
If your report of misconduct includes classified national security information or legally protected information, you must use confidential means, such as reporting to your IG, OSC, or Congress.
Privacy Protections for Whistleblowing Employees
In addition to protection from professional punishment, the law protects whistleblower privacy.
If you divulge legal violations to an IG or the OSC, both authorities are generally prohibited from revealing your identity.
The IG may disclose your identity only if the disclosure is unavoidable or required by a court order.
And the OSC may reveal your identity only if it concludes that disclosure is necessary because of imminent danger to the public or an imminent violation of criminal law.
Filing a Whistleblower Retaliation Complaint
If the OSC or MSPB determines that your employer violated one of the whistleblowing laws, you can win:
- Reversal of the employment action taken against you,
- Back pay,
- Compensatory damages,
- Medical costs,
- Attorney fees, and
- Legal expenses.
To win, you must prove that your employer took employment action against you because of your whistleblowing.
And after you initiate legal action, your employer can defend itself by proving by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same action against you regardless of your whistleblowing.
When you file a whistleblower retaliation complaint, you must meet multiple deadlines and complete significant amounts of paperwork.
You should speak to an experienced federal employment attorney immediately after suffering unlawfully motivated punishment at work.
An experienced attorney can quickly and timely file the necessary complaint paperwork and guide you through the process and your legal options.
Our Attorneys Help Federal Employees
We have helped hundreds of federal employees reverse adverse employment decisions, receive work accommodations, and win damages.
We are experienced in handling virtually every type of federal employment legal dispute. You work hard to protect the interests of this country, and we work hard to protect you.