Whistleblower Protection Act
Whistleblowers — people who expose wrongdoing within an organization — have enjoyed special protection under the law since the earliest days of the United States.
That’s because whistleblowers play a vital role in our society: Their moral courage helps to uphold an America ideal — the notion that everyone should play by the same rules. When government or corporate executives start breaking laws, honest employees are an early warning system. By refusing to participate, or to turn a blind eye, they stop illegal schemes in their tracks.
Whistleblowing is especially important within government, where officials represent their fellow citizens and are entrusted with public money. As early as 1778, the Continental Congress called on “all persons in the service of the United States” to report “any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”
But while whistleblowing is a duty, it can also be risky. An employee may be punished, or even fired, for telling the truth. That’s why the Founding Fathers gave special legal protection to certain whistleblowers — and why Congress has passed many laws since then with the same aim.
Different types of whistleblowing are protected under different U.S. laws. (Visit our firm’s main site for a broad list of whistleblower protection laws.) For people who work for the federal government, a primary protection is the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA), along with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 — plus follow-ons to both laws, including the No-FEAR Act of 2002, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, and Presidential Policy Directive 19, which President Obama signed in 2012.
Government employees also are protected from retaliation by the First Amendment, within certain limits.
Like most whistleblower protection laws, the WPA forbids retaliation against federal employees who make a specific type of protected disclosure — in this case, providing information that they reasonably believe shows fraud; abuse of authority; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; violation of laws or regulations; or a risk to public health or safety.
For such an action, whistleblowers cannot be fired or demoted. They also cannot be penalized in other ways, such as blacklisting, reduction of pay, reassignment, or change in duties.
The WPA provides a clear procedure for filing retaliation complaints. Whistleblowers who win their case may be reinstated with back pay or otherwise made whole at work, and also may receive attorney fees, other costs, and uncapped compensatory damages.
The Employment Law Group® law firm has helped many government whistleblowers to assert their rights under the WPA and associated statutes. If you’d like to talk with our whistleblower attorneys, please contact us.