What protections do federal whistleblowers have?

Whistleblower laws protect employees of the federal government as well as federal contractors and grant recipients against retaliatory actions, yet there remain some limitations in these protections that many are concerned about.

There have been many instances in U.S. history where an individual disclosed information to another party about potential wrongdoing on the part of another individual, agency or office within the federal government. The national and even perhaps international media has focused its lens intently on a significant event since the summer of 2019.

These events logically beg the question as to how well a federal employee willing to come forward with such allegations may be protected from retaliatory behaviors. Answering this question starts with understanding the laws currently in place.

The Whistleblower Protection Act

In 1989, Congress enacted the Whistleblower Protection Act that outlined provisions designed to prevent any person sharing details about wrongdoing from experiencing negative backlash. The Act made it illegal for another entity to take or even to threaten to take action against a whistleblower for the latter's whistleblowing actions. The law also encompasses the failure to take action or the threat of any such failure.

A person should feel safe and able to bring forth allegations about actions that would endanger public safety or health, be illegal or violate any regulation or rule, or that would expose the mismanagement of funds or the abuse of authority.

Contractors working with the federal government or those who receive federal grants are also protected under this act with respect to allegations involving federal contracts or grants. Examples of this would include the gross mismanagement of a federal contract or the gross waste of federal grant funds.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act

In 2012, additional protections were added to the original law designed to address concerns that employees bound by nondisclosure agreements may be unable to provide details about wrongful or illegal acts. This new law aimed to protect people who disclosed information relating to fraud, abuse or waste.

Some concerns remain regarding gaps in the law

The Federal News Network reported that even with the protections laid forth by the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a federal employee must utilize internal administrative reporting channels and procedures before any court actions may commence.

This process is different than with allegations involving other acts such as sexual or racial discrimination.

Federal employees deserve help

Any person who works for a federal government agency or office and who has knowledge of wrongdoing that needs to be reported deserves to feel safe to do so. Working with an experienced attorney who knows how to navigate these matters is recommended in these situations.