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What can federal whistleblowers really expect?

No one wants to feel guilty. No one wants to wake up in the morning sick to the stomach because something illegal or discriminatory is happening at work. That's why we have whistleblowers.

These honest and hardworking employees tend to approach their jobs with integrity. They care about the ways the government helps others. When they spot abuses of power and other wrongdoings, they stand up and speak out. Because their words and actions often lead to real change, the law affords them certain protections. However, the reality is that the process is rarely as simple or painless as it is meant to be.

What potential whistleblowers need to know about retaliation

Whistleblowers have been in the news a lot of late. From the whistleblower who reported against the White House to the various whistleblowers who have reported wrongdoing within the VA, these men and women have drawn attention to some disturbing problems. They have changed the ways the public has looked at and talked about these organizations.

But they have also paid a price.

As several whistleblowers told The Washington Post, the fact that the law bans retaliation doesn't mean whistleblowers won't face it. To the contrary, the whistleblowers who spoke to the Post all suffered retaliation. Their reports all met resistance, and their superiors told them to lie or simply lied for them.

They weren't all fired, however. Instead, they faced multiple forms of retaliation, including:

  • Dead-end assignments
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Ostracism
  • Docked pay
  • Limited access or work privileges

Despite the fact these whistleblowers faced serious retaliation, they all said they would do it again. They just didn't want other whistleblowers to proceed with false expectations because, as one said, "hell on Earth will come at them."

How to be smart about whistleblowing

The whistleblowers spoke out because their consciences compelled them. They didn't think they were going to make their lives easier, but some were still surprised how rough their lives were afterward. They learned from their experiences and some offered advice for others who might step forward:

  • Understand that speaking out may have an effect on your career, family and personal life - but retaliation by your employer is illegal
  • Assuming you step forward, document everything

More than one of these whistleblowers stressed the importance of good record-keeping. In the face of lies from further up the chain, potential retaliation and lies about the retaliation, records of the facts are crucial.

An experienced attorney can help potential whistleblowers review the facts of their cases, build those cases, point to the records they'll need to keep and use those records to highlight later retaliation.

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