Telling a Tale: The Whistleblower Protection Act

Telling a Tale: The Whistleblower Protection Act

There are plenty of laws that protect employee rights, but an important and sometimes debated law is the Whistleblower Protection Act. But who does this law apply to and what exclusions are there?

Let’s dive into a discuss of the Whistleblower Protection Act to find out what it is and how it works.

The Basics: What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?

In short, the Whistleblower Protection Act is in place to protect employees of federal agencies from retaliation if they disclose evidence of wrongdoing by their agency, which includes everything from law breaking and misuse of funds to abuse of power. Basically, federal workers have the freedom to report wrongdoing without fear that their employer will punish them or seek legal action against them for doing so, given their report abides by the stipulations of the Act.

What Protection Does the Act Offer?

The Whistleblower Protection Act is in accordance with individual rights outlined in the Constitution and employee rights dictated by the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as other laws enacted for the protection of the American public. The Act protects employees from workplace retaliation that can include any of the following, among others:

  • Being fired, laid off, or being demoted
  • Harassment
  • Blackmail
  • A reduction in pay or hours
  • Disciplinary action
  • Denial of benefits or promotions

How is a Claim Filed and What Happens If There is Retaliation?

Complaints against employers can be sent to the Complaints Examining Unit of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (the required information can be found here). An investigation is then opened to examine the allegations. There is even special jurisdiction covering cases of employer retaliation.

After a claim is filed, if an employer retaliates, the employee has a deadline for reporting the action, depending on which whistleblower law is broken. OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, offers a guide for enforced Whistleblower Protection laws, as well as how an employee can report any retaliation they face from an employer.

Who Isn’t Protected by the Whistleblower Act?

If the Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees from employers after disclosing information, are there any instances where employees are not protected? Yes. A key example (and long debated case) of this is Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and contractor who leaked confidential information from the NSA. But how does the Act apply to Snowden’s case? Let’s take a look.

How the Whistleblower Protection Act could have offered protection to Snowden really depends on how you view him: as a hero or a traitor. In 2013, Snowden disclosed confidential documents that showed the NSA’s extensive surveillance program. The primary law against Snowden’s chances of claiming himself a protected whistleblower is the Espionage Act. This law states that criminal charges will be brought against those who disclose information that can be used to injure the United States or gives an advantage to another nation. But fundamentally, Snowden is not protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act because the act excludes those working for U.S. intelligence agencies, due to the highly classified information they handle, instead they must approach Congress before facing the media. In his case, Snowden decided for forego seeking Congress’ approval and chose instead to release the classified intel, as well as a life of exile.

The Whistleblower Protection Act provides basic protection to federal employees (apart from those in the intelligence community) from employer retribution should they report a wrongdoing, but in many ways, it is a complex legal system that can be difficult to comprehend. Hopefully, this short guide provides some insight into how the Act works, why it is important, and some of the details that have pulled it into popular discussion in recent years.