A whistleblower is an individual who informs the government or other authorities of information that he or she believes constitutes one of five prohibited acts: violation of the law, gross mismanagement, gross expenditure of funds, abuse of authority, or threatening public health or safety. Whistleblowers are so named because they are frequently employees of the organizations that they expose - effectively blowing a whistle to call attention to their respective employers.
Whisteblower Protection Laws
The Federal False Claims Act Amendment of 1986, the Whistleblower Protection Act passed in 1989, and other federal statutes provide protection for whistleblowers after they have revealed their information. On top of these, many states have provisions that outline whistleblower protection.
The specific mechanisms for the protection of whistleblowers differ depending upon the individual's employer, the violation, and other factors. However, these mechanisms all share the same basic premises and structure.
A whistleblower cannot be retaliated against for legally revealing what he or she believes is a violation of the law. This bars actions from the whistleblower's employer such as harassment, reduction of pay, demotion, or termination when said actions can be connected to the employee's whistleblower status.
If prohibited action occurs, the whistleblower's best recourse is usually to report the retaliatory offense to the federal agency that has jurisdiction. There are several government agencies that are charged with resolving instances of retaliation against a whistleblower: the Department of Labor (in many cases of environmental law infractions) and the Office of Special Counsel (for whistleblowers who are government employees) are just two. These agencies review the circumstances on an individual basis and order corrective action when they deem it appropriate. This may include restoration of pay and/or title, damages, or other measures. The agency is usually authorized to take action through federal court if the employer fails to comply.