Whistleblower Protection

What are whistleblowers protected from?

Federal law prohibits governmental personnel from retaliating against an employee who acts as a whistleblower by reporting suspected waste, fraud or abuse to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Under the Federal law against prohibited personnel practices, agency officials may not “take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant for employment” because the person has disclosed information which he or she reasonably believes is evidence of (1) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or (2) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, so long as the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law or Executive Order.

What is Whistleblower Retaliation?

Whistleblower Retaliation is personnel action in response to a protected disclosure of information and includes actions that could adversely affect the whistleblower, such as:

  • A non-promotion
  • A disciplinary action
  • A detail, transfer or reassignment
  • An unfavorable performance evaluation
  • A decision concerning pay, benefits or awards
  • A significant change in duties, responsibilities or working conditions

What Types of Disclosures are Protected?

Disclosures of information by an employee, former employee, or applicant for employment are protected if the individual reasonably believes the disclosure evidences any of the following:

  • A violation of law, rule, or regulation
  • Gross mismanagement
  • Gross waste of funds
  • A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
  • An abuse of authority

Where Can You Report a Whistleblower Complaint or Complaint of Whistleblower Retaliation?

Employees have many lawful options for reporting whistleblower complaints, including to management officials, the OIG, and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). For disclosures involving classified national security information or other information protected from public release by law, whistleblowers must use confidential channels such as the OIG or the OSC. Complaints of retaliation can be reported to the OIG, OSC, or any other employee designated by the agency head to receive such disclosures.

What Is the Office of Special Counsel?

The OSC is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency with the responsibility to receive, investigate, and prosecute allegations of whistleblower retaliation. Unlike the OIG, the OSC has authority to seek corrective action from the FTC by filing a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) to enforce corrective action for the whistleblower, and to initiate disciplinary action against the individual responsible for the retaliation. Corrective action might include ordering a promotion, cancelling a disciplinary action, payment of back pay, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees. Click here for more information on the OSC.

Where Can I Find Additional Information?

The FTC provides annual notice to staff to ensure that all employees are aware of their whistleblower rights and the safeguards in place to protect them. The notice further provides information on the thirteen prohibited personnel practices. The most recent notice is available here: Annual Notice. Additional educational resources are available on the OSC website, including posters that address Whistleblowing, Whistleblower Retaliation, Prohibited Personnel Practices, and The Hatch Act.