If you see something, say something. This has become an important safety mantra of the times in which we find ourselves. Blowing the whistle when something is wrong is the right thing to do.
Federal whistleblower protections
Federal laws protect federal employees who speak up when something illegal, violent, negligent, unsafe, dishonest or against workplace rules occurs on the job. All too often, they can face retaliation from colleagues or management for whistleblowing.
Retaliation comes in many potential forms. For example:
- Unwarranted or excessive discipline
- Failure to promote
- Unfairly negative reviews or references
- Failure to get (or loss of) special projects, trainings or benefits
- Loss of responsibilities
- Withholding of deserved perks, raises or bonuses
A range of legal remedies exists to protect whistleblowers from illegal retaliation. One of them is to file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for a prohibited personnel practice (PPP). One of the 14 PPPs the OSC investigates and prosecutes on behalf of federal workers is whistleblower retaliation.
The OSC investigates whether the alleged wrongful personnel action was in retaliation for the whistleblowing activity. The test is whether the whistleblowing was a contributing factor to the PPP.
A recent example of OSC advocacy
In July 2022, the OSC announced that it reached a settlement on behalf of a prominent thoracic surgeon in the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs health care system.
He reported two “near deaths” of patients during anesthesia administration for thoracic surgery. The doctor believed that these two incidents had been “avoidable, had anesthesiologists with greater thoracic experience been present.”
Shortly thereafter, the VA said it would separate the surgeon from service and he took involuntary retirement. After he filed a complaint with OSC, it got a stay of the retirement and negotiated a settlement on his behalf with the VA. The terms included permanent reinstatement, $100,000 in back pay and $20,000 in damages.
Any federal employee facing reprisal for whistleblowing at work should speak with an experienced federal employment lawyer to understand the legal options, including a potential OSC complaint.