If you’re thinking about blowing the whistle on your employer, there’s a lot you can learn from the White House whistleblower. Here are some important things to consider before you take action:
Sort out the details of your whistleblower complaint.
Make sure you can provide basic information in your disclosure or complaint. Here are some important questions you should be able to answer:
- Who are you reporting on?
- If it’s a specific person, what did he or she do?
- How and when did he or she do it?
- What law did he or she violate?
- If you’re reporting an organization, who within the organization took or directed the unlawful actions?
- What law did the actions violate?
- Do you think the person broke the law, or organization as a whole?
- How did that person/organization break the law?
Under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), you have to meet certain criteria. For instance, your disclosure must be about one of the following:
- a violation of law, rule, or regulation
- gross mismanagement
- gross waste of funds
- abuse of authority
- a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
Before you act, make sure the conduct you’re complaining about falls into one of these categories. When you file a complaint, you’ll need to explain how it does. Reporting a violation of a law, rule, or regulation requires that you identify which law, rule, or regulation was violated.
Evaluate the evidence supporting your complaint.
A disclosure is only protected if it’s based on a reasonable belief. In general, this means that a disinterested person could make the same conclusion as you, based on the same information and facts. There’s no exact formula for proving that your belief is reasonable, but it always helps to have evidence to support your disclosure. Here are some common sources of evidence when building a case:
- Text messages
- Other documents
- Any witnesses
Whatever your evidence is, it must be legal. Otherwise, you may be subject to discipline or even criminal charges for obtaining information without authorization. Accessing classified information without a proper security clearance or disclosing classified information without authorization can get you in big trouble, even if the information supports your complaint.
Follow the law.
Remember, the law only protects you if you follow the rules. In general, complaining to your supervisor about his conduct doesn’t constitute a protected disclosure. Whistleblower retaliation laws create special procedures for reporting unlawful conduct.
The first step is to figure out which law applies to you. The WPA prohibits retaliation against employees who make protected disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel, Office of Inspector General, or an employee who is designated to receive disclosures. However, the WPA doesn’t protect employees of many agencies, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and intelligence agencies. Therefore, the White House whistleblower had to follow procedures set forth in a law that applies to the intelligence community. 50 U.S.C. § 3033(k)(5)(A). In summary, make sure you know how to blow the whistle before you take action.
Are you a whistleblower?
If you complained about your employer’s waste, fraud, or abuse, we can help. We are whistleblower attorneys who represent employees in OSC complaints, Independent Right of Action cases with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Department of Justice investigations, qui tam actions under the False Claims Act, retaliation claims, arbitration and mediation, and settlement negotiations. We will work with you to evaluate your case, discuss your options, and develop a strategy to assert your rights.
Send us an email or call us at (202) 463-6036 to speak with an experienced employment attorney. Alan Lescht and Associates represents state and local government workers and private sector employees in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia, and federal government employees around the world.