▷ What is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is an employee who discloses information that they reasonably believe is evidence of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

▷ What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA), as amended, is a law to strengthen and improve protection for the rights of Federal employees and to prevent reprisals against Federal employees who disclose Government illegality, waste, and corruption.

▷ What is a protected disclosure?

A protected disclosure is a disclosure of information that the individual reasonably believes evidences a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; a gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. Protected disclosures can be made to many individuals, including to a supervisor, someone higher up in management, or a member of Congress, as described in the question below, provided that the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law and the information does not have to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs.

▷ How does an employee make a protected disclosure?

Federal employees have many options to make a protected disclosure. They include:

• Telling a supervisor, someone higher up in management, member of Congress or congressional committee.
• Reporting the issue to their agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG);
• Filing a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency that investigates prohibited personnel practices, including whistleblower retaliation claims.

▷ Will you keep my identity confidential?

Yes, though the OIG may not be able to fully investigate your complaint if you choose to remain confidential.

▷ Are whistleblowers protected from retaliation?

Yes. The Whistleblower Protection Act, as amended, prohibits retaliation in response to protected disclosures. This means it is unlawful for agencies to take or threaten to take a personnel action against an employee because he or she disclosed wrongdoing. Personnel actions can include, among other things, poor performance review, demotion, suspension, termination, or revocation or downgrade of a security clearance. In addition, the law prohibits retaliation for:

• Filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance;
• Helping someone else file or testifying on that person's behalf;
• Cooperating with or disclosing information to OSC or an Inspector General; or
• Refusing to obey an unlawful order.

▷ What can you do if you believe whistleblower retaliation occurred?

If you believe that an agency has retaliated against you because of your whistleblowing, you can:

• File a complaint with OSC, which may seek corrective action when warranted;
• If you have been subject to or threatened with certain types of personnel actions, you can file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and assert whistleblower retaliation as a contributing factor. Depending on the type of personnel action at issue, you may be required to first file a complaint with OSC.

You may also file a complaint with the OIG Hotline. Please note that the OIG investigates whistleblower retaliation claims and presents its findings to the Agency, but cannot request or recommend corrective action. However, OSC can request or recommend correction action to the Agency, and if the Agency does not comply, OSC can petition the MSPB to compel action.

▷ What relief may be available to an employee who has suffered retaliation for whistleblowing?

Many forms of relief may be available. They include:

• Job restoration;
• Reversal of suspensions or other adverse actions;
• Back pay and related benefits;
• Medical costs, travel expenses, and other reasonable and foreseeable consequential damages;
• Compensatory damages; and
• Attorney fees and costs.

▷ As the employee of a Department of Commerce contractor, subcontractor, grantee, subgrantee, or personal services contractor, am I protected from whistleblower retaliation?

Under 41 U.S.C. § 4712, it is illegal for employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, or personal services contractors to be discharged, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against for making a protected whistleblower disclosure. The DOC OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of whistleblower reprisal against employees of DOC contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, or personal service contractors. For more information about whistleblower protections for such employees, please consult the informational brochure prepared by the OIG.

▷ To whom may questions regarding the Department of Commerce Whistleblower Protection Program be addressed?

Any questions or issues related to whistleblower protections at the Department of Commerce may be addressed with the OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator, at 202-482-1099.

The Coordinator’s role is to educate employees about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures, as well as the rights and remedies for employees who are retaliated against for making protected disclosures. The Whistleblower Protection Coordinator is available to speak directly with employees who have questions about prohibited personnel practices, retaliatory actions, and about whistleblower rights, and potential remedies that exist for employees that face retaliation. However, please note that the Whistleblower Protection Coordinator is prohibited from acting as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for employees.