The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

What You Need to Know About Protections for Government Employee Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers play a vital role in keeping U.S. government agencies accountable, efficient, and honest. Recognizing these individuals' crucial functions, federal whistleblower protection laws safeguard employees who face retaliation for making protected disclosures. Here's everything you need to know about the protections government employees are entitled to when blowing the whistle.

What Government Actions Can Whistleblowers Report?

If you're a federal employee or job applicant, laws encourage you to report any of the following types of government wrongdoing:

  • Violations of any rule, law, or regulation

  • Actions of gross mismanagement

  • Activities that constitute a waste of funds

  • Abusive acts of authority

  • Acts resulting in a danger to public safety or health

  • Specific acts of censorship related to scientific research

Current or former federal employees can disclose acts of wrongdoing to their supervisors, the agency's Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or Congress.

What Whistleblower Protections Exist?

Several federal laws exist to protect federal employees who disclose government wrongdoings from adverse consequences related to the whistleblowing act. Whistleblower rights were initially addressed by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. However, the most significant laws outlining mandatory employee actions and whistleblower protections include:

  • The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA): Passed in 1989, the WPA is the first significant whistleblower statute in the U.S. It outlines the rights of public employees to disclose government wrongdoing safely. The WPA seeks to prevent reprisals and improve federal protections for whistleblowers. The WPA did this by making it easier for employees to report government violations and workplace retaliation.

  • Executive Order 12731: Issued in 1990, this Executive Order makes it mandatory for federal employees to report acts of waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to the proper authorities.

  • The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA): Passed by Congress in 2012 to supplement the WPA, The WPEA extends whistleblower protections. The law grants protections to whistleblowers who were not the first to disclose misconduct, make a disclosure to a colleague or supervisor, disclose the penalties associated with a policy decision, or blow the whistle while performing job duties. The WPEA also expands the penalties for violating whistleblower protections.

There are also numerous provisions to protect the anonymity of federal whistleblowers. The Inspector General Act of 1978 and WPA make it illegal to disclose a whistleblower's identity without permission.

While the laws above outline protections for federal employees, each state has its own regulations to protect public employees from whistleblower retaliation.

What Whistleblower Retaliation Acts are Prohibited?

Retaliation is adverse action against a current or former employee because of an action protected by a whistleblower law. These actions are known as prohibited personnel practices. Retaliation can take several forms, including:

  • Termination or suspension

  • Demoting

  • Unjustifiably disciplining

  • Denying benefits

  • Failing to hire or rehire

  • Denying promotion

  • Denying overtime

  • Reducing pay

  • Intimidation

Employees who suspect whistleblower retaliation can report the actions to their agency's Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Congress, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Dodd-Frank Act allows the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to take legal action against employers who have retaliated against whistleblowers. Dodd-Frank also allows whistleblowers to file a complaint in federal court.

What Is the Merit Systems Protection Board?

Established in 1979, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the Executive branch. The MSPB has the statutory authority to adjudicate whistleblower employee appeals against prohibited personnel practices. The MSPB can order an agency to take corrective action, including reinstating an employee to a previous position, awarding backpay, or paying the employee's attorney fees.

Whistleblowers can appeal adverse personnel actions with the MSPB if they want their case reviewed. However, whistleblowers can only file a claim with the MSPB if the agency has jurisdiction over their case. The employee must first file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel in many circumstances.

In April 2022, the MSPB regained a quorum of members after a long period of vacancies that left the Board unable to review cases. The Board could not make final decisions on whistleblower petitions between January 2017 and March 2022 because it did not have enough members. As such, there is currently a backlog of more than 3,600 employee cases.

The MSPB does not adjudicate petitions made by state employees. However, most states have independent agencies that review employee appeals against prohibited personnel practices.

Contact an Expert

If you have information about government wrongdoing or whistleblower retaliation, contact us at Piacentile, Stefanowski & Associates LLP, also known as Whistleblowers International. We evaluate your information confidentially and free of charge. We do not charge you anything unless and until we secure you a monetary reward, and even then, it is based on a percentage of your recovery. Thanks for reading!