Federal Employee & Federal Contractor Whistleblower Protections

Employees of the federal government and of government contractors have strong protections from retaliation for speaking out against unlawful, unsafe, or improper workplace practices.  In order to prevail on a claim, a whistleblower must show that his or her whistleblowing was a “contributing factor” to the employer’s retaliatory action – in other words, that the retaliatory motive was a factor, alone or with others, that caused the employer to take an adverse action.  By creating a standard favorable for employees, Congress sought to encourage federal employees and contractors to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

Whistleblower Protection Act: Protections for Employees of Federal Executive Agencies
Originally enacted in 1989, Congress amended the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) in 2012 to strengthen workplace protections for employees of federal agencies.  The WPA protects federal employees in the executive branch from retaliation for reporting illegal or improper government activities.  Under the WPA, a federal government employee is protected from retaliation for reporting what he or she reasonably believes evidences:

– A violation of law, rule or regulation;
– Gross mismanagement;
– A gross waste of funds;
– An abuse of authority; or
– A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

The WPA also protects employee disclosures of censorship related to research, analysis, or technical information.  An employee who experiences retaliation prohibited by the WPA can file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the independent administrative agency tasked with investigating and seeking enforcement actions for violations of the WPA.

National Defense Authorization Act: Protections for Employees of Government Contractors and Subcontractors
Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA) to strengthen whistleblower protections for employees working for companies that receive federal government contracts and grants.  The NDAA created two important protections: (1) it strengthened whistleblower protections for employees of Department of Defense contractors, and (2) it established a temporary, four-year program to protect whistleblowers in companies receiving federal contracts from other executive agencies.  In 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law S. 795, which made permanent the NDAA’s temporary protections for employees of federal contractors and subcontractors.  Similar to the WPA, the NDAA protects an employee of a federal government contractor or subcontractor from retaliation for reporting what he or she reasonably believes evidences:

– A violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant;
– Gross mismanagement of a federal contract or grant;
– A gross waste of federal funds;
– An abuse of authority relating to a federal contract or grant; or
– A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

To gain legal protection from retaliation under the NDAA, the employee must disclose the information to a management official or other employee at the company with responsibility for investigating, discovering, or addressing misconduct; a federal employee at the relevant agency responsible for contract or grant oversight or management; law enforcement; a court or grand jury; an Inspector General (IG); the Government Accountability Office; or a member of Congress or a representative of a committee of Congress.

An employee who is targeted for retaliation for engaging in protected activity can file a complaint with the IG of the executive agency that awarded the contract.  The whistleblower can choose to either pursue relief through the IG’s administrative process or file a complaint in federal district court after 210 days have elapsed from the initial IG filing.

If you are an employee of the federal government or a federal government contractor or subcontractor with knowledge of illegal or improper conduct, or if you have experienced retaliation for whistleblowing, please contact us right away.  The whistleblower lawyers at Correia & Puth, PLLC are committed to holding employers accountable for wrongdoing and ensuring that employees are protected when they take a stand against illegal employer conduct, or waste, fraud, and abuse.

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