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Whistleblower Litigation and Whistleblower Retaliation

Problems such as financial irregularities, health and safety violations, or other violations of law may prevent your workplace from being the best it can be. You want to work in a safe environment that complies with state and federal regulations so that you can feel as safe and secure in your job as possible.

Unfortunately, when reported internally, these issues sometimes give rise to retaliatory actions from employers rather than remedial action. Your company might find reason to discipline, demote, or terminate you because they say you are a troublemaker. Things you never had problems with before are suddenly major issues and are causing you to be put on improvement plans, have your hours cut back, or have your contract or position terminated.

Whistleblower protection laws provide security and protection to employees who report abuse, fraud, or misconduct in the public sector. Employees are protected against retaliation by their employers for reporting misconduct in the workplace and are sometimes eligible for awards for disclosing wrongdoing. These laws typically protect federal, state, and local government employees, as well as employees of firms that contract with the government.

Federal Employees

There are a wide range of whistleblower protections in federal law. The most relevant of those protections for federal employees is the Whistleblower Protection Act which protects federal employees, applicants, or former employees against job-related reprisals for disclosing government illegality, waste, corruption, or endangerment of public health and safety.

An employee participates in a protected activity by disclosing information that shows evidence of fraud, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, a violation of a law, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

An employee must first present a complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, including the precise ground for the whistleblower retaliation charge. If the Special Counsel finds a violation, she may petition the Merit Service Protection Board for a stay of the employment action. If the employee is not satisfied with the Special Counsel’s actions, he or she may file an appeal or a request a review by a MSPB administrative law judge. The Act authorizes back pay, lost wages, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and reinstatement.

Separate protection for employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, or subgrantees can be found under 41 U.S.C. § 4712 “Enhancement of Contractor Protection from Reprisal.”

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District of Columbia

The D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act forbids a supervisor from retaliating or threatening to retaliate against an employee of the D.C. government or an employee of a D.C. government contractor because of the employee’s protected disclosure. A protected disclosure could include reporting evidence of gross mismanagement, misuse of funds, abuse of authority, a violation of law, a violation of contractual terms, or danger to public health. The employee needs to show that his or her reporting was a contributing factor in the employer’s personnel action taken against the employee.

Employees may bring a cause of action within one year of the prohibited action by filing a civil claim in D.C. Superior Court. The Act authorizes injunctive relief, reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and restoration of lost benefits.

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Virginia expanded the Fraud and Abuse and Whistleblower Protection Act, effective July 1, 2020, to protect employees of private companies, in addition to employees of the Commonwealth.

This new expansion of law protects employees who:

  • report, in good faith, violations of any federal or state law or regulation to a supervisor or to any governmental body or law-enforcement official;
  • are requested by a governmental body or law-enforcement official to participate in an investigation, hearing or inquiry;
  • refuse to engage in a criminal act that would subject the employee to criminal liability;
  • refuse an employer's order to perform an action that violates any federal or state law or regulation and the employee informs the employer that the order is being refused for that reason; or
  • provide information to or testifies before any governmental body or law-enforcement official conducting an investigation, hearing or inquiry into any alleged violation by the employer of federal or state law or regulation

A successful plaintiff under this statute can be awarded “(i) an injunction to restrain continued violation of this section, (ii) the reinstatement of the employee to the same position held before the retaliatory action or to an equivalent position, and (iii) compensation for lost wages, benefits, and other remuneration, together with interest thereon, as well as reasonable attorney fees and costs.” Va. Code § 40.1-27.3(A).

Contact our attorneys if you have been retaliated against or believe you will need protection because you are a whistleblower.