Most people expect the United States government to act with honesty and accountability; however, wrongdoings do occur. These can cost the taxpayers billions of dollars and even affect lives.
If federal employees become aware of, or suspect, wrongdoings, they can disclose them. To protect these employees from potential retaliation from employers, there are protections in place.
Disclosures protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act
According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, the Whistleblower Protection Act protects current federal employees and former employees as well as applicants. These individuals receive protection from retaliation if they have reasonable beliefs that one or more of the following occurred:
- Significant waste of funds
- Gross mishandling
- Violation of any regulation, law or rule
- Specific and considerable threat to public safety or health
- Abuse of authority
Examples of prohibited retaliation actions
Because these suspected wrongdoings are protected disclosures, an employer may not take revenge out on the person who made the disclosure. Some examples of retaliation include failing to hire, firing or demoting; denying benefits; denying a promotion or overtime request; reducing hours or pay; disciplining and reassigning to a less desirable or lower paying position.
Sometimes, retaliation is more subtle. Examples include isolating, mocking or shunning. An employer also cannot threaten, harass or blacklist the employee.
How to file a complaint
If a whistleblower does experience retaliation by an employer, the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration outlines how the whistleblower can file a complaint. The individual can file the complaint in a variety of ways, such as email, phone, online and in person, to the OSHA Area or Regional office. There are time limits associated with filing a complaint, and they range from 30 to 180 days after the retaliation action occurs.
When filing a complaint, it helps, but is not a requirement, to submit any documentation or proof of the retaliation. OSHA will also interview the complainant to decide if there should be an investigation.