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What Is the Whistleblower Protection Act?

Updated : March 24th, 2023

Whistleblower Protection Act

A whistleblower reports wrongdoings committed by a boss or coworker at the workplace. Although the term “whistleblower” can have negative connotations, a whistleblower is often someone who desires to help people by bringing significant issues to the attention of others.

Unfortunately, whistleblowers can receive backlash for doing so. The Whistleblower Protection Act protects whistleblowers from unintended consequences, such as losing a job or harassment by other employees or management.

5 Government Agencies That Offer Whistleblower Protections

  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
  • Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS)
  • Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

The term “whistleblower” has gotten a lot of attention in the political world, but it’s actually most often used in workspaces. The Whistleblower Protection Act began in 1989 to protect federal employees who speak out against injustice, corruption, fraud, safety hazards, and other problems in the workplace. Since then, the government has put more laws and agencies in place to protect against whistleblower retaliation in public and private workspaces. In 2012, the act was amended with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act to expand protections and reviews.

The United States Department of Labor oversees the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is one of the primary agencies tasked with protecting each public and federal employee under the whistleblower law. Four other government agencies also work to process whistleblower complaints and violations and protect workers against wrongdoing and gross mismanagement by their companies.

What Is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower informs others of actions or policies within their workplace that could be unsafe, illegal, or fraudulent. Usually, whistleblowers have good intentions of bringing these issues to light to prevent anything from happening that could be harmful to the company’s employees, partners, customers, or the public.

Regardless of their intentions, whistleblowers could face retaliation from their companies after they release this information. This could lead to a hostile work environment, demotion, harassment, and other negative consequences, simply for trying to help others. Due to the potential threats that come along with being a whistleblower, these employees may need legal protection to prevent retaliation, like denying unemployment eligibility, job loss, or a pay reduction.

Many countries, including the United States, have whistleblower protection laws to prevent employer retaliation. In the United States, this is known as the Whistleblower Protection Act. The law holds classified information provided by federal whistleblowers or public employees and protects against an employer’s adverse action.

Because these protections are part of the law, a whistleblower who has faced retaliation or disciplinary action at their job can consult an employment lawyer for assistance with their case. Federal agencies, such as OSHA and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), work together to enforce the law.

5 Government Agencies That Offer Whistleblower Protections

The government ensures that workers of all kinds are covered under the Whistleblower Protection Act. To do so, the government created protection through five different federal agencies designed to protect against adverse personnel action for whistleblowers. These agencies allow an employee to report issues with full disclosure relating to insurance fraud, youth employment, employee safety, and other related problems within the workplace.

1. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

MSHA specifically covers mine workers. Its mission is to assist mine workers in staying safe on the job by promoting safe, healthy, and productive work environments. MSHA conducts mine inspections, sets standards and regulations for the industry, writes safety and ethical policies, and enforces non-compliance penalties.

The agency also advocates for mine workers via the Whistleblower Protection Act. A special counsel reviews and investigates issues reported by miners or miner representatives. MSHA offers protections for miners who refuse to work due to safety hazards and may assist them with legal testifying, medical evaluations, or filing of complaints relating to their concerns with their workplace.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 provide several specific statutes for mine workers as well as responsibilities for mine workers to report injustices and safety problems. The following are examples of the laws’ inclusions:

  • Mine workers may not be fired, demoted, refused employment, harassed, or retaliated against in other ways when they make a complaint in good faith
  • Miners must file a complaint within 60 days of the discriminatory event
  • Miners have the right to accompany MSHA inspectors on mine inspections
  • Mine operators must provide medical surveillance for mine workers, including chest x-rays, to detect potential health issues like black lung
  • Miners who become totally disabled from black lung are entitled to medical benefits and compensation

Refer to the MSHA Discrimination Complaint Package to file a complaint with MSHA, or you may contact MSHA for more information.

2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

OSHA is a federal agency with sub-agencies in each state and ten regional agencies. OSHA’s statutory provisions cover employee safety, fraud, transportation services, environmental protection, health insurance, and consumer product and food safety. The agency offers protected disclosure for any whistleblower who brings these issues to its attention.

OSHA outlines detailed regulations for various private and public-sector workplace complaints. Each regulation or act has varied timelines for complaint filing and covers different groups of people.

For example, the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA) of 1974 protects specific groups of federal contractors and other nuclear industry workers from reporting issues of abuse, mismanagement, fraud, prohibited personnel practices, etc. Whistleblowers have 180 days to file their complaints with OSHA.

A whistleblower can file a complaint with OSHA via the Whistleblower Protection Act if retaliation occurs. For the whistleblower to make a comprehensive complaint, they must allege that retaliation of some type has happened after filing a complaint under the Whistleblower Protection Act and that the employer was aware of the complaint.

A whistleblower can report this information to OSHA by filling out an online form, visiting an OSHA office, or calling OSHA. Complainants must respond to requests for information from OSHA to continue their report.

3. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

The OFCCP oversees and protects workers from discrimination from federal contractors and subcontractors, holding these entities responsible in the same way as employers. To enforce laws governing diversity and non-discrimination, the OFCCP conducts compliance evaluations, monitors the agreements of contractors and subcontractors with workers, and penalizes companies for failing to comply with the law through their federal contracts.

The OFCCP oversees three specific laws:

  • Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, which prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against veterans and advocates for fair employment practices toward veterans.
  • Executive Order 11246, which protects against discrimination involving race, gender, color, religion, and other factors that could cause bias in hiring decisions.
  • Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prevents federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and encourages companies to work with individuals with disabilities.

A person can file a complaint against a federal contractor or subcontractor and fall under the jurisdiction of this agency’s protected activity by downloading and completing the electronic complaint form on the OFCCP’s website. You can submit the form electronically, by mail, or in person at the nearest OFCCP Regional Office.

Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory act for general discriminatory cases or within 300 days of the discrimination against a veteran or individual with a disability. If retaliation happens after an individual’s initial complaint, they can then file a retaliation complaint with the OFCCP.

4. Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS)

Veterans and service members have as many rights as other workers when employed or looking for employment. VETS protects former military service members from discrimination regarding their military status when employed or seeking work. Similarly, VETS will protect veterans against retaliation for filing a complaint regarding discrimination of any kind toward them.

VETS does this via the Uniform Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA), which oversees the rights of veterans and service members from any branch of military service, including the National Guard or reserves.

Specifically, the law states that veterans and service members have the right to reenter civilian employment, keep their employer’s health insurance plan if they reenter the service, and be free of discrimination if they’ve completed or plan to complete military service.

Before filing a claim under USERRA, a veteran or service member should use the USERRA Advisor tool to determine the proper steps. They can enlist the help of a mediator to resolve the problem with their employer or file a formal complaint online or with their state’s Director for Veterans’ Employment and Training (DVET). The same process stands for initial complaints and Whistleblower Protection Act retaliation claims.

5. Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

The WHD oversees issues relating to wages, overtime pay, and certain benefits, such as parental or medical leave. The agency also protects employees against unlawful lie detector test practices, such as requiring a passed test as a condition of employment.

Specifically, the WHD enforces the following laws:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act
  • Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA)

To file complaints with WHD, employees must include copies of pay stubs, employer information, and any other evidence relating to their claims against their employers with their local WHD office. WHD may then conduct an investigation on the employer, report the findings to the employer, and, if necessary, begin enforcement procedures against the employer.

Whistleblowers cannot face retaliation, including discrimination, demoting, or firing, for filing a complaint. They may follow the same claim process to file a complaint of retaliation. However, WHD has a two-year statute of limitations to file a complaint against an employer.

Your Guide to the Whistleblower Protection Act and Federal Law Protections

The Whistleblower Protection Act gives protected disclosure to employees if they file a complaint in good faith about their employer. These complaints might highlight unfair wages, on-the-job harassment, or discrimination based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, or another factor.

The federal government includes five agencies that oversee specific aspects of employee rights and worker groups. For instance, MSHA oversees the rights of mine workers, while VETS protects the rights of veterans and military service members. Other agencies offer protection for general groups of workers and tend to focus on specific rights like overtime pay and work safety.

When a whistleblower files a complaint with an agency to notify it of prohibited personnel practice or other wrongdoing, they have the right to not face retaliation for doing so. The law allows these individuals to work with a whistleblower protection ombudsman to prevent initial or further retaliation.

If you’ve faced adverse action as a private or federal employee, contact the agency that’s most relevant to your case to learn more about filing a complaint and receiving protections through the Whistleblower Protection Act.

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