What Does It Mean to Be a Whistleblower?
A federal employee who reports legal violations or wrongdoings in the workplace is typically called a “whistleblower.” They may be involved in exposing fraud, waste, abuse, or illegal activities that are taking place within a government-run organization. This kind of whistleblowing can be done internally (to one's supervisor) or externally (to an agency outside the organization).
Federal employees who act as whistleblowers have rights and protections under federal law, such as the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). However, even with these protections in place, those who speak up about wrongdoing may be the victims of retaliation. In this blog post, we take a look at the federal protections in place for whistleblowers and explain what to do if you are the victim of retaliation.
The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)
The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)was passed in 1989 and provides federal employees with protections against retaliation for disclosing evidence of law violations or other wrongdoings, such as fraud, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuses of authority, and more. The law prohibits a range of retaliatory actions such as demotion, suspension without pay, or removal from the job. It also protects employees from other personnel actions such as transfers, work assignments, and performance reviews that might affect whistleblowing activity.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), passed in 2012, strengthened the WPA and clarified the scope of protected disclosures and the conditions under which they remain protected. Meanwhile, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA), which was made permanent in 2016, extended whistleblower protection to employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and subgrantees.
Retaliation After Making a Protected Whistleblower Disclosure
Retaliation after an employee makes a protected disclosure can manifest in various forms, including disciplinary actions, withholding a promotion, transfer or reassignment, suspensions, or changes in job duties. One way to recognize if you have experienced retaliation is if there has been a change in your working conditions or the attitude of your supervisors towards you.
It is important to remember that retaliation for protected whistleblowing activity is prohibited by law, and employees who suffer as a result can take action.
If a federal employee has suffered retaliation due to acting as a whistleblower, they may be eligible for damages, including back pay with interest, reinstatement, and compensatory damages. The employee should consult with an employment attorney to protect their rights and ensure all available protections are taken advantage of.
To prove retaliation in a whistleblowing case, the employee must show that they suffered an adverse action after making a protected disclosure and that there is a causal link between the two events. Typically, the burden of proof is on the employee to establish proof of retaliation. Once the employee has done so, the employer can offer a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse action. If the employer cannot do so, then the employee may be able to prove their case of retaliation and recover damages.
However, proving retaliation can be tricky, especially in whistleblower cases. Furthermore, the federal and state laws surrounding protected whistleblowing activities and disclosures are complicated. If you are in a situation where you plan to act as a whistleblower or have already done so, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure your rights are protected.
To discuss your concerns with one of our experienced federal whistleblower attorneys, call us at (202) 350-3881 or send us a message online. The Law Office of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC, is standing by to help you today.