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Whistleblower Protection Act: An Overview

Whistleblowers provide a crucial service by holding organizations accountable for wrongdoing. Congress has recognized this. As a result, many state and federal laws exist to protect them from workplace retaliation. 

One such law is the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). The WPA provides a way for federal employees to disclose misconduct. It also allows for employees to report retaliation. 

Below, you'll find an overview of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Read on to learn about key points to consider if you are, or might be, a federal whistleblower.

Creation of the Whistleblower Protection Act

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 first addressed whistleblower rights. The federal government then passed the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The purpose of the Act was to strengthen and improve protection for the rights of federal employees, to prevent reprisals, and to help eliminate wrongdoing within the government. 

One way the law did this was by clarifying the procedure by which employees could report wrongdoing and workplace retaliation. Another was by separating the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). This empowered the OSC to represent whistleblowers.

Who Does the Whistleblower Protection Act Protect?

The Whistleblower Protection Act protects current federal employees, former federal employees, and applicants for federal employment from retaliation. The OSC does not handle claims for employees of federal contractors, members of the military, or the U.S. Postal Service. 

The OSC can't represent you if you work for intelligence agencies that include the CIAFBI, or NSA. In addition, the OSC does not handle disclosures that are prohibited by law and required by executive order to be kept secret.

Making Disclosures of Wrongdoing Under the Whistleblower Protection Act

As a federal employee, you can report any of the following types of misconduct to the OSC:

  • A violation of any law, rule, or regulation
  • Gross mismanagement
  • Gross waste of funds
  • Abuse of authority
  • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety

Although the OSC does not investigate whistleblower claims, they will review the disclosure of information. If they find a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing, they will refer the matter to the federal agency head to investigate the claim. The agency then must report back to the OSC within 60 days.

To demonstrate a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing under the WPA, you must provide reliable, first-hand knowledge of the misconduct. Speculation or second-hand information is not enough. There must also be a reasonable belief of misconduct. 

You have the right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation, but you can't make an anonymous whistleblower disclosure. You can request that the OSC keep your identity confidential.

Filing a Whistleblower Retaliation Claim Under the Whistleblower Protection Act

If you've already made disclosures as a whistleblower and you feel you've received unfair treatment as a result, you may report the retaliation to the OSC. The OSC will investigate your claim. If they find retaliation did occur, they will report their findings to the agency to take corrective action.

To prove that retaliatory actions occurred, you must show the following elements:

  • You disclosed misconduct as described above
  • The official who took or threatened adverse personnel action against you, such as firing or demotion, knew of your disclosure
  • Your disclosure was a contributing factor in the adverse actions against you

If retaliation did occur, you may be able to obtain damages. Damages can include back pay and benefits, attorneys' fees, a clean record, and other considerations.  

Officials who retaliate may be subject to disciplinary action. This can include demotion, removal, suspension, and fines.

Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act

While the WPA included important protections, many people believed that in practice its protections were weak. As a result, President Obama and Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in 2012

This law strengthened and expanded the rights and protections of the original WPA. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act expanded the scope of protected disclosures to include scientific censorship and cover-ups. In addition, it strengthened enforcement mechanisms to ensure swift and effective remedies for whistleblowers.

Legal Help From a Whistleblower Attorney

The decision to come forward with evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse by a government agency is a heroic one. Many laws like the WPA will protect you, but it's important to know what types of disclosures are protected and the procedures you must follow for making disclosures. 

Make informed decisions by contacting an attorney familiar with whistleblower protection laws.

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