Federal employees have strong — but not unlimited — whistleblower protections. There is too much at stake if you have built a career working for the U.S. government. Before you report wrongdoing or exercise employment rights, you of course want to be sure you won’t jeopardize your job, your benefits and your career.
Namely, it is important to know which activities are specifically protected from retaliation. Some protections are universal for all federal employees, and other whistleblower rules are agency-specific.
Protected whistleblower activities under federal employment law
The follows actions and activities are protected from termination and other forms of whistleblower retaliation:
- Reporting to your employer a criminal act, law violation, fraud, waste or mismanagement of government funds, abuse of authority, substantial and specific danger to public safety, or threats to the integrity of scientific research such as censorship or manipulation of data
- Refusing to engage in an unlawful practice, if you have informed your employer that you believe it violates the law
- Cooperating with internal investigations, including testifying, assisting the investigation or preparing to do so.
- Testifying before Congress, the EEOC or any federal or state proceeding (or preparing to)
Up to one-third of whistleblowers experience some retaliation
This is a simplified and not exhaustive list of protected activities under the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. An attorney who specializes in federal employment law can advise on the procedures and protections specific to your agency and your circumstances.
Under the WPEA, you are protected if you report wrongdoing to a supervisor or coworker who participated in the unlawful activity. You are also protected if others have previously reported the same or similar wrongdoing.
You are not protected from adverse employment actions that are unrelated to your disclosures. But all too often, demotions, revocation of security clearance or other adverse actions are veiled and trumped-up retaliation for bringing scrutiny to unlawful activity. And that is exactly what the federal whistleblower laws are designed for.