[author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor]
Federal employees now reap the benefits of greater whistleblower protections. On November 27, 2012, President Barack Obama signed a bill aimed at curbing the waste of government resources, as well as preventing retaliation against those reporting such waste. This event marks the culmination of a 13-year campaign by whistleblower protection groups in expanding retaliation protections for those federal employees who report fraud, waste and abuse of government funds.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA), Senate Bill 743, aims to close certain perceived loopholes in whistleblower protections that had arisen from court interpretations of existing law. Under the WPEA, employees will be entitled to protection from retaliation in the event that they are reporting information regarding "any violation" of the law. Any potentially conflicting nondisclosure agreement or policy enforced by federal agencies should contain a specific statement allowing whistleblower communications.
In addition, the bill calls for an ombudsman position to be established in certain agencies to facilitate in training employees regarding reporting procedures and retaliation protections. The penalties for violating whistleblower protections have also been expanded, including potential disciplinary actions and an assessment of a civil penalty of up to $1,000. Employees may seek attorney fees and costs, as well as damages (including consequential and compensatory damages) through US Merit Systems Protection Board proceedings.
All employers should take note of the trend toward greater protections for whistleblowers, especially when viewed in the context of dedicated federal programs offering bounties to private employee whistleblowers. Employers should maintain a sound internal communications strategy that adequately addresses employee concerns, potentially avoiding reports to external enforcement agencies.
How to Promote Integrity in the Workplace and Protect Whistleblowers