Whistleblower Protection Law is Complicated

The word “whistleblower” is certainly being bandied about a lot these days, and it’s increasingly apparent to me that there’s some confusion out there about what the whistleblower protection laws are, who and what they cover, and what it means to file a complaint.

For Federal Employees: The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) is legislation that protects federal employees from retaliation for reporting the “possible existence of an activity constituting a violation of law, rules/regulations, mismanagement or gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial or specific danger to public health and safety.”

The 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act further “enhanced” the WPA.

For Everyone Else: Other laws that can be evoked in a whistleblower complaint include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which is the law that “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin;” and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against persons 40 years of age or older.”

But it’s Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) that is utilized most often for pursuing the whistleblower complaints that come from the employees of private businesses. OSHA’s enforcement embraces over 20 separate federal retaliation statutes that cover consumer product, motor vehicle, and food safety; employee safety; transportation services; environmental protection; health insurance; and the financial industry. It’s complicated.

New Website: One of the federal government’s accomplishments last summer was the successful launch of OSHA’s new Whistleblower Protection website. It’s an excellent primer for anyone seeking a better understanding of what the word retaliation means, the issues involved in filing a complaint, how the investigation process works, and options for a negotiated resolution.

There’s also a whole section on how to prevent retaliation complaints — and specific actions that employers can take to make it safe for employees to raise safety and compliance concerns. Employers who want to learn more about the components of an effective anti-retaliation program will find the website a helpful overview of the concepts and business practices involved.

By bringing clarity to the process and what it means to file a complaint, it is hoped that the new website will help to reduce the growing investigation backlog.

In the meantime: If you have received a whistleblower retaliation complaint — or are concerned about an internal situation that you believe could lead to a whistleblower retaliation complaint — I encourage you to contact me. 

About the Author: James Laboe

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