Whistleblower Protections Under Federal and State Law

Hundreds of laws protect whistleblowers under federal and state law. Most protect employees. A few--the False Claims Act, SEC andIRS whistleblower, and similar state laws, provide whistleblowers with a share of the money recovered from fraudsters.

Where should complaints of whistleblower retaliation prohibited by federal laws be sent?

Many federal laws protecting whistleblowers are administered by the United States Department of Labor (DOL). To begin the administrative process, complaints must be filed in writing and should be filed with the local OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) office of the DOL and/or mailed to:

U.S. Department of Labor  
Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
200 Constitution Ave., NW  
Washington, DC 20210

The Department of Labor's local OSHA offices are the intake offices or "first stop" for many federal whistleblower claims by employees.  OSHA is also responsible for investigating complaints of retaliation by whistleblowers under many federal statutes. Usually, these OSHA offices can be found under the United States Government listing in your local telephone directory, under the heading of OSHA or Department of Labor. If you live in a small town or rural area, you may need to consult a directory from a nearby metropolitan area or your state capital.

However, there are many whistleblower and retaliation claims that are not filed with the Department of Labor or OSHA and must be timely filed with the proper government agency or court to protect the whistleblower's rights.

What federal laws protect environmental whistleblowers?

There are several major federal environmental laws–Atomic Energy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("Superfund"), Solid Waste Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act–that have special provisions protecting employee whistleblowers. When used, these laws have been effective in protecting employees who expose public health and safety violations.


Who is protected by federal environmental whistleblower statutes?

Federal environmental whistleblower statutes protect almost any employee, whether employed in the private sector or by a local, state or federal government agency, who believes he or she has been discriminated against in retaliation for "blowing the whistle" on a safety problem or environmental violation, or for engaging in other activity protected under the law.


Are there any federal laws protecting whistleblowers at federal nuclear sites?

Yes. Whistleblowers in the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industries have specific protections under Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act, 42 U.S.C. § 5851.  Claims should be filed with the Department of Labor's OSHA offices within 180 days of the violation.


What nuclear workers are protected by the Energy Reorganization Act?

Almost any employee working at a nuclear site or with nuclear materials, whether employed in the private sector or by a local, state or federal government agency, is covered by these laws.  Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Department of Energy-regulated licensees, utilities, contractors, subcontractors, agents or other employers are subject to the protections of Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act.  Section 211 is "codified" or collected with other similar laws passed by Congress in the United States Code of laws, at 42 U.S.C. § 5851.

Under Section 211, any employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against in retaliation for "blowing the whistle" on a safety problem or environmental violation, or for engaging in other activity protected under the law, may file a discrimination charge. Almost any adverse change in the whistleblower's terms and conditions of employment is prohibited by Section 211. This includes reprimands, poor performance appraisals, and other unfair treatment.

National security whistleblowers, are they protected by law?

As of July 2014, there is good news for national security whistleblowers who report violations of Americans' privacy rights and rights to be free from illegal and unnecessary government search, seizure, and eavesdropping. A new law, passed by Congress in 2014, provides new employment protections for federal government employees who blow the whistle on federal agency misconduct.

On July 7, 2014, President Obama signed the “Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014.”  A section of the law, entitled “Protection Of Intelligence Community Whistleblowers,” specifies that federal government employees working in the area of national security and who divulge information about possible misconduct within their agencies to their Inspectors General or other designated intelligence offices will be protected from employment retaliation. Details of implementation of this new law are still being developed. However, the law allows the President to take steps to protect national security whistleblowers. 

Until the passage of this national security employee whistleblower law, those whistleblowers in national security agencies had little legal protection, even when they reported unlawful conduct within their own agencies.  While critics lament that the law is not strong enough, it is a first and important step in protecting employees who guard Americans from illegal government spying and surveillance.

The new whistleblower protections for national security whistleblowers do not cover intelligence agency contractors. Only federal national security employees are covered by the “Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014.”

How does the new whistleblower protection provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 protect federal intelligence community employees?

This extends whistleblower protections to employees of the CIA, DIA, NGA, NSA, DNI, NRO, and any executive agency that is determined to have as its principal function the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence activities. Prohibits certain personnel practices against such employees as reprisal for a lawful disclosure to the DNI, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, the head or appropriate inspector general of the employing agency, or Congress. There is a specific provision exempting the FBI from coverage. The regulations to implement this law have yet to be enacted.


No More Gag" Orders for Defense Contractors--A Win for Whistleblowers

In early February 2015, the Department of Defense made whistleblower history and took a courageous step in the fight to end fraud that hurts our troops, our economy, and our world. The Department of Defense issued a ground-breaking rule that prohibits payment of federal Department of Defense funds to companies that stifle whistleblowing by using coercive "confidentiality" agreements. The specific language says that Department of Defense funds may not be used:

"for a contract with an entity that requires employees or contractors of such entity seeking to report fraud, waste, or abuse to sign internal confidentiality agreements or statements prohibiting or otherwise restricting such employees or contractors from lawfully reporting such waste, fraud, or abuse to a designated investigative or law enforcement representative of a Federal department or agency authorized to receive such information."

Hurrah for the Department of Defense and its protections for taxpayers AND whistleblowers!

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