An introduction to gag orders and their whistleblowing relevance

On Behalf of | Jan 20, 2021 | Whistleblower Protection

Americans harbor strong views regarding government integrity.

That is strongly evidenced by federal protections accorded individuals who take risks in stepping forward to report acts of wrongdoing in agencies and other work venues. Relevant safeguards seek to shelter those persons against reprisals when they speak up against malfeasance and act on behalf of a general public that demands accountability.

It is critically important that government managers and key decision makers be held to a standard of honesty and good faith, of course. That is implicitly recognized in both federal and state legislation addressing fraud, mismanagement, waste, public safety violations and other acts of misconduct.

An authoritative legal source addressing government wrongdoing and citizens’ prerogatives in calling it out speaks to that point. It underscores that federal workers must be able to point out misconduct without suffering reprisals. They have a legal right to “blow the whistle.”

And, indeed, they are protected when they do so.

Even so, those safeguards sometimes come into question and are materially tested by wrongdoers who seek to retaliate unlawfully against those who dare to spotlight their illegal acts.

Vindictive reprisal can assume many forms. Some employees are frozen out at the workplace, being denied the opportunity to compete for promotions or offer meaningful input. Others suffer demotions and wage loss. Some workers who speak out are summarily relocated and victimized by unenviable job placements. Others are simply fired.

And there is this too, as noted in a recent in-depth article spotlighting attempts to silence whistleblowing action: Bad actors often invoke so-called “gag orders” that seek “to chill federal workers from making whistleblowing disclosures.”

Moreover, they frequently do so without informing targeted individuals that those orders are anything but unchallengeable edicts.

In fact, gag orders come with notable limitations inserted to ensure that whistleblowers’ rights are not unlawfully hampered. We will take a closer look at gag orders in the whistleblowing context in our next blog post.

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