New law affords greater whistleblower protections to federal employees

Recently, a new law went into effect that better protects federal whistleblowers from retaliation by their supervisors. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, unanimously passed by both chambers of Congress, aims to deter supervisors from punishing federal employees for exposing agency mismanagement. It also includes some agency-specific requirements to better protect Veterans Affairs employees’ privacy interests.

How will the law protect federal whistleblowers?

Many federal employees who disclose wrongdoing suffer the indignity of being targeted by their managers after speaking out about governmental waste, fraud, and abuse. Such was the case of Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist who sadly committed suicide the same day he was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing. Dr. Kirkpatrick raised concerns about the over-prescription of opioids to veterans at a VA facility that was known to patients as “Candy Land.” Until last week, there was a lack of consequences for individuals engaging in such retaliation, and managers were even rewarded with bonuses and raises for harassing whistleblowers.

The new law, named after Mr. Kirkpatrick, requires that agencies train managers how to handle whistleblower complaints and provide a disciplinary process for retaliating managers.

The law also requires that the VA develop a plan to prevent unauthorized access to employees’ medical records, and it must reach out to employees to make them more aware of available mental health services.

Are you a federal whistleblower?

If you have questions about federal whistleblower protections or retaliation, contact Alan Lescht and Associates today.  Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email us. We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world.

Whistleblower protections under the Follow the Rules Act

On June 14, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Follow the Rules Act, an important extension of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

Background of the Follow the Rules Act

The WPA protects federal government employees from retaliation for complaining about the government’s dishonest or illegal activities. In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made a decision interpreting the WPA in Rainey v. Merit Systems Protection Board. The court held that the WPA protects employees who refuse to obey orders that would require violation of statutes. However, the WPA does not protect employees who refuse to obey orders that would require violation of rules or regulations.

Additional whistleblower protections

The Follow the Rules Act overturns the Rainey decision and gives employees more protections. Agency can’t take personnel actions against employees who refuse orders that would require violations of laws, rules, or regulations.

In introducing the bill last year, Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) gave the following example:

Congress directed the President to promulgate rules and regulations regarding sanctions against North Korea. Without the Follow the Rules Act, employees who refused to follow orders to violate North Korea sanctions would have no whistleblower protections.

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said, “[W]e need to do all we can to ensure that federal employees are allowed to perform their jobs free from political pressure to violate laws, rules, and regulations.”

If your employer took an adverse personnel action against you for complaining about illegal or improper activity, contact Alan Lescht and Associates today. We offer results-driven legal services to federal employees around the world.

The basic components of a whistleblower case

As the name implies, a whistleblower is someone who publicly discloses the criminal activity or other misconduct of their employer without their employer’s consent. In most cases, the act of blowing the whistle is dangerous for an employee, as they have put their employer in the spotlight in a negative way. Because of this, there are measures in place to protect the whistleblower if they encounter retaliation as a result of the whistleblower activity.

However, whistleblower protections vary widely based on the type of activity, your employer and where you live. There is no general definition or universal list of whistleblower activity that is protected, and sometimes the measures could be difficult to overcome. For example, the statute of limitations in most whistleblower cases begins when an employee learns that they will be retaliated against, rather than when they are actually retaliated against. In some federal whistleblower statutes, the statute of limitations is as little as 30 days.

In any case, for the whistleblower, the main component of his or her case against their employer calls for proof that they were retaliated against as a result of his or her whistleblower activity. In addition, the case should take into account things such as the statute of limitations for the activity and what sort of damages can be recovered from the employer as a result of the case.

With the vague, difficult and sometimes dangerous nature of whistleblower activity, consultation with an attorney as soon as possible is highly recommended to discuss your rights and ensure as much as protection as possible from the employer’s possible retaliation.