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Do federal employees have a duty to report wrongdoings?

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2020 | Federal Employment Law

The federal government is a massive, multi-trillion-dollar machine. It impacts nearly every aspect of life within the United State—and even across the globe. But at the ground level, it’s made up of people.

People like you are responsible for managing, overseeing and implementing all the policies the government funds. And the good work you do helps to ensure tax dollars serve their purpose. So, when you see others taking actions that put lives at risk or threaten to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars, do you have an obligation to report those wrongdoings?

Federal employees are strongly encouraged to report wrongdoings

The short answer is: No, you do not have a duty to report wrongdoings. Not a legal duty, anyway.

But your choice not to report bad actions may harm hundreds, thousands or even millions of people who have no one else to support them. The public can vote, but that doesn’t mean they know what’s happening inside your agency. The result is that many federal employees feel they have an “ethical duty” to blow the whistle.

Here, as the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) notes, the law supports your desire to do right. Lawmakers have long recognized the valuable role whistleblowers play in saving lives and calling out fraud and waste. Accordingly, the OSC argues that federal laws “strongly encourage” whistleblowing.

Why do employees report wrongdoings?

Although it may seem the relic of another time, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) presented a detailed report on whistleblowing in 2011 that explored what led federal employees to report wrongdoings. It found that they were motivated primarily by their desire to help others and prevent harm.

The four leading reasons employees cited for reporting wrongs were:

  • To stop actions that might put others’ lives at risk
  • To spare the government from costly fraud or waste
  • To promote positive change
  • To call out serious ethical violations, even if they didn’t have large monetary costs

In other words, whistleblowers step forward because they want to do “the right thing.” This is as true about whistleblowers today as it was in 2011.

Retaliation and your rights as a whistleblower

As the OSC notes, the law supports your efforts as a whistleblower by prohibiting retaliatory actions. These actions may include:

  • Bad performance reviews
  • Reassignments
  • Demotions
  • Reprimands
  • Suspensions
  • Termination

Sadly, the reality is that many whistleblowers suffer from retaliation despite their legal protections. The result is they may need help asserting their rights. With strong legal counsel, the victims of retaliation may reclaim their jobs or win compensation for their suffering—even as they promote positive change within the government.

Dont let the fear of retaliation stop you from doing the right thing

In 2011, the MSPB found that the fear of retaliation silenced many would-be whistleblowers. And their silence may have led to untold deaths, injuries and misspent dollars. Every day, people across the nation rely on federal employees like you to defend their rights and use their tax dollars wisely.

Retaliation is a real threat. But it doesn’t have to stop you from doing what’s right. The law supports your right to call out bad actors. It supports your efforts to do the right thing.


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