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What is a Whistleblower?
An employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. When information is classified or otherwise restricted by Congress or Executive Order, disclosures only are protected as whistleblowing if made through designated, secure channels.
If, as a result of reporting or questioning misconduct like that described above, the whistleblower experiences (or is threatened with) an unfavorable administrative decision, then he or she has experienced retaliation, which is prohibited by law in most workplaces. An unfavorable administrative decision may be discipline, demotion, dismissal. Retaliation may also take the form of harassment, which is prohibited, too. Harassment may include a failure to renew a contract, lack of promotion, withdrawal of privileges, such as access to training, or marginalization through the loss of responsibilities.
Whistleblowers are protected by law from retaliation, but U.S. laws vary among different industries. For example, with some exceptions, whistleblowers working for the federal government are protected by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). Whistleblowers working in corporations traded on the New York Stock Exchange are protected by the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) protects certain employees in the food industry. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act protects whistleblowers in the financial sector.
International organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the Global Fund, have adopted internal policies that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. While these policies do not have the force of law, they do set out the aspirations of the institutions, and internal ethics offices are charged with enforcing them.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) employs attorneys who specialize in defending whistleblowers who experience retaliation. We are a non-governmental organization, operating as a law firm, and we offer legal services to whistleblowers whose reporting protects the public interest. In many cases, we also work with Congress and the press to inform the public about the significance of our clients’ reports.