While plenty of people who learn about fraud and come forward to share their concerns with the government or a supervisor do so as an employee, not every person who is a whistleblower is in that employee role. Employee whistleblowers can come in just about every industry as a result of the kinds of fraud or safety violations that could put the public at risk.
However, due to the size and reach of the federal government, many whistleblowers work either as employees within the federal government or are employed as contractors partnering with the federal government on projects. These whistleblowers, however, are treated differently from cases at the individual state level; federal employee whistleblowers have their own programs and protections.
It can be hard for someone with a federal job to feel like they should come forward with evidence of fraud especially if they fear losing their own position, however, the government also relies on and attempts to protect such people to guard the taxpayers.
Many people are familiar with the concept of the term whistleblower but might not understand how it relates to their individual situation if they become aware of illegal or fraudulent behavior.
There are many different protections available to federal employees as it relates to notifying the government about mismanagement, fraud, waste, and abuse, in addition to instances in which there is a specific or substantial danger to the public health or safety. These whistleblower concerns often come up in the context of federal employees being told to communicate with the Office of the Inspector General.
What Is the Purpose of Whistleblower Disclosures?
Federal employees are a significant source of alerting the government about instances of waste or illegal activity. Whistleblower disclosures can save billions of tax payer dollars and can also save lives particularly when the issue being raised is in relation to public safety and health. The federal government believes that federal employee whistleblowers play an essential role in keeping the government efficient, honest, and accountable.
This means that there are several different federal laws in place that encourage federal employees and the employees of federal contractors to come forward about wrongdoing. Additionally, another set of federal laws protects whistleblowers from being retaliated against after they raise legitimate concerns about whistleblowing.
Relevant Whistleblower Laws for Federal Employees
The whistleblower protection enhancement act of 2012 enables inspector general to put forth a whistleblower protection representative for the purpose of notifying employees about prohibitions on retaliation against whistleblowers. The primary purpose is to enhance transparency and accountability within and outside of that individual agency.
It is important for a federal employee who has reason to believe fraud has already happened to follow the right procedures in terms of making a protected disclosure.
Understanding Protected Disclosures
There are protected disclosure whistleblower protections for former employees, federal employees, and applicants for employment as it relates to fraud, waste, and abuse. Under this federal definition and protected disclosure includes any disclosure of information that a former employee, employee or applicant for employment in the federal government reasonably believes indicates abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, violation of any law or rule, gross waste of funds or a specific and substantial danger to public safety and health.
These disclosures of wrongdoing are covered under existing federal employee whistleblower protections regardless of whether or not they are told to a member of a congressional committee, a member of Congress, someone at the office of special counsel, the office of the inspector general or a supervisor in management; so long is the disclosure of that information is not prohibited by law and there is no need to keep this information secret in the interest of foreign affairs or national defense.
Understanding Federal Employee Whistleblower Protections for Retaliation
It’s natural for an employee to be concerned about an employer being angry over the report of suspected fraud. Recognizing this risk, there are laws in place to discourage employers from being openly able to take adverse employment action.
Existing federal whistleblower protection laws enable legal remedies for those job applicants or employees who are potentially subject to retaliation as a result of making protected disclosures of abuse, fraud, waste mismanagement, and specific and substantial dangers to public health or safety.
It is prohibited for federal employers to learn about a whistleblower’s legitimate actions under these protected disclosures and retaliating against that employee or job applicant as a result. It is illegal for federal employers to fail to take, threaten to take or to take a personal action directly in relationship to the whistleblower’s actions. This can include disciplinary actions, appointments, promotions, reinstatement, details, transfer, reemployment, restoration or reassignment. In addition to decisions related to awards, evaluations, pay, training, benefits, and other significant changes in working conditions or duties.
What Should A Federal Employee Do When They Learn of Issues That Should Be Reported to The Government?
If you someone you know has discovered evidence of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement or other issues that could directly threaten the public health, it is imperative to take this situation seriously and hire the services of a talented federal employee whistleblower protection lawyer. In addition to understanding the different phases of a federal employee whistleblower case, it is good to have an attorney in your corner to help advise you in the event that you suffer from a retaliation and have to bring a separate lawsuit against the federal government or an employer who took this action against you.