Public Sector Secrecy Rules Could Violate Federal Whistleblower Laws


Whistleblower laws are intended to discourage corruption by granting legal protection and sometimes even financial incentives to employees who report corruption and other violations. However, these laws can sometimes be at odds with the security requirements of certain sensitive facilities or the proprietary rights of contractors. While these concerns are sometimes understandable, there is a frightening trend emerging of public employers and government contractors forcing employees to sign broad and largely unnecessary confidentiality agreements in an attempt to circumvent federal whistleblower laws.

A recent investigation conducted by the Washington Post revealed widespread use of agreements that restrict employees’ ability to report about regulatory violations and other problems and eliminate financial incentives that would otherwise exist for doing so. While confidentiality agreements are common for employees who have access to sensitive or proprietary information, the investigation suggested that many government departments and contractors were going far beyond these legitimate goals in the following ways:

  • Categorically prohibiting any disclosures
  • Requiring employees to obtain supervisor approval before reporting out to regulators
  • Preventing employees from receiving any financial benefits for disclosures

These agreements go against state and federal whistleblower laws such as the False Claims Act and thus, in most cases are likely at least partially void due to illegality. However, many employees may not be aware of their rights as whistleblowers and may assume that such an agreement could subject them to legal action by their employer should they report troubling conduct to a regulatory authority.

By consulting an experienced attorney, you can determine if the nondisclosure agreement you signed in Texas is legally enforceable and what your rights are as a whistleblower. A lawyer can also help you tailor your disclosure to avoid violating any legitimate confidentiality rights your employer may have.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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