Understanding Federal Laws for Whistleblowers

Whistleblowing is when an individual, often an employee, reports about their employer's fraudulent or unlawful activities to a government public agency. The law restricts employers from retaliating against whistleblowing employees; the employer cannot sack or deny the employee of their benefits. They must not behave in any way that can affect the whistleblower's employment status. 

Both state and federal laws protect whistleblowers. 

The Federal Laws Protecting Whistleblowers

Numerous statutes and regulations capture the federal law on whistleblowers. The primary federal laws associated with whistleblowers include:

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

This act protects whistleblowers in publicly traded organizations or corporations and requires corporate employers to create systems for workers wishing to make anonymous complaints. 

Furthermore, the act says it is a crime to retaliate against a whistleblower. The offense is punishable by monetary fines or up to ten years in jail. 

The False Claims Act

This act permits those unrelated to the government to file a fraud claim against the federal government or its institutions. The provisions of this law include prohibition from intentionally giving a false claim to the government on payments and other financial matters. 

Further, it permits a citizen filing a claim to receive some of the awards from successful claims, often between 15 and 25 percent. The system where citizens can file "on behalf" of the government is "qui tam." 

The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act (2002)

Also known as the “No-FEAR Act,” this law concerns only federal agencies’ workers. The act improves work standards for the concerned agencies and ensures stricter whistleblowing laws. The mandates include:

  • Federal agencies must inform workers of their rights as contained in the whistleblowing laws
  • The agencies must outline procedures for processing complaints 
  • They must investigate complaints of equal employment opportunity breaches
  • Federal agents who breach whistleblower laws must face the consequences

The Military Whistleblower Protection Act

This law empowers members of every military branch to lodge their grievances with a Congress member. 

The Whistleblower Protection Act

The authorities enacted this act in 1989 and revised it in 2002. The law also protects whistleblowers working for the federal government. 

This law birthed the Office of Special Counsel, responsible for investigating federal workers' complaints. The act protects federal workers who report a breach of a rule, law, gross management, embezzlement, endangerment to public safety, or an abuse of power. This law also applies to applicants for federal jobs. 

The National Defense Authorization Act 2013

This law initiates a pilot program that prohibits the sack or demotion of a federal contractor or subcontractor's employee due to a whistleblower disclosure. The rule also applies to grantees and sub-grantees. The program became permanent in 2016. 

It is crucial to reiterate that numerous states have unique Federal False Claims Act versions. 

The Law That Empowers You to Report Your Employer for Misconduct

You have many options depending on the nature of your employment. If you work in a corporate setting, you will probably file under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) provisions. However, if the issue is about the federal government, you will probably file your claim based on the No-FEAR Act or the False Claims Act. 

A military person will probably rely on the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, while a federal worker will explore the Whistleblower Protection Act. However, federal law does not address every whistleblowing act, so you may have to depend on state law for protection in such circumstances.

It is particularly crucial to consult an employment attorney because numerous federal statutes and state laws on whistleblowing protection exist. It is even advisable to contact an informed employment lawyer before whistleblowing. This proactive approach will position you for any attempted retaliation from the employer. 

Filing a Lawsuit after an Employer’s Retaliation 

Sometimes, a whistleblower protection statute mandates that a worker who has suffered retaliation inform a supervisor in the firm where they work. Alternatively, the law might require you to file a claim with a government agency. 

Generally, you should file claims for relief with the Secretary of Labor under the federal statutes. The authorities will investigate the claim and issue an order on it. If a dissatisfied party is displeased with the order, they can appeal it to a federal court.

“How you file your claim depends on the exact statute concerned. For instance, you will file your complaints for whistleblowing activities with the Inspector General instead of the Labor Secretary if you are under the employment of a defense contractor,” says employment attorney  Bill NettlesFran Trapp of Bill Nettles Attorney at Law. 

There are many other technicalities on where to file a claim. For instance, the Secretary’s order becomes final under the Dodd-Frank Act and the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act, except if displeased parties lodge objections within a given period. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a unique whistleblower protection program. It aims to implement the provisions of over 20 federal whistleblower statutes, which shield workers from retaliation for reporting infractions of several laws associated with specific sectors. 

They include airlines, motor vehicle safety, railroads, food safety, workplace safety and health, commercial motor carriers, financial reform, and public transportation agencies. Others are consumer products, health insurance reform, and other sectors. 

You must report retaliation to OSHA before filing a civil lawsuit in a federal court. You must file a case within six months of learning about the retaliatory act. 

If OSHA affirms that your employer retaliates against you for whistleblowing, you can recover your financial losses, like back pay. The court may also reinstate you if your employer has sacked you. 

The regular pathway for pursuing relief entails the following:

  1. Confirm if the company has in-house solutions or if you need to involve a federal agency. The law has compelled many employers to establish reporting procedures to enable employees to complain to their employers first. 
  2. If you cannot reach a truce internally, file a claim with a federal agency. The Secretary of Labor is the go-to office for such complaints.
  3. File a civil lawsuit if the agency cannot resolve the case.

The Need for an Employment Attorney

The technicalities and complexities of whistleblowing laws should prompt you to engage a local employment attorney. They can provide professional help with your whistleblowing claims. 

Furthermore, they can help you with the documents needed for a whistleblower report. You must involve your lawyer from the beginning to help them know how to react appropriately if your employer eventually retaliates. Record details of misconduct and retaliations accurately, as they will serve as the basis of your claim.

If you involve your lawyer before the whistleblowing, they can draft a strategy to implement the plan. They can even communicate with your employer if they attempt to retaliate. For instance, they can remind the employer of a publicly traded corporation of the consequences of retaliation, including imprisonment. 

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