Know Your Rights
The whistleblower legal landscape is complicated. We encourage employees, journalists, and advocacy organizations to reach out to the experts at Government Accountability Project to receive pro bono legal and strategic advice to minimize the risks of reporting abuses and maximize the power of the information.
What to Know Before Blowing the Whistle
Each whistleblower case is unique, requiring an analysis of the facts before a legal strategy is determined. While the following information is neither comprehensive nor should be construed as offering legal advice, it offers some basic guidance on whistleblower rights before reaching out to experts at Government Accountability Project to further assist you.
What is Whistleblowing?
A whistleblower is an individual who discloses information that he or she reasonably believes evidences a violation of law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; a gross waste of funds; abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Disclosures of "Lesser" Misconduct and Policy Disagreements
If the misconduct does not fall into a category of concern as outlined above, it does not mean that the concern isn't important, valid, or even corrosive to workplace integrity. Likewise, an employee may have a legitimate dispute about a decision of management.
However, if an employee’s concern is not about legal violations, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, the disclosures would not rise to a level that would meet the standard of “whistleblowing” protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) or most other whistleblower protection laws.
Similarly, if an employee’s disagreement with a policy decision is rooted in a difference of opinion, rather than about the specific consequences of the policy decision that the employee reasonably believes would result in legal violations, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, that policy disagreement would not constitute protected whistleblowing under the WPA.
Whistleblower Rights and Remedies
While various rights and remedies exist in both federal and state laws to encourage workers to blow the whistle on serious abuses, the legal landscape is complicated. No single law protects all whistleblowers; instead, a patchwork of more than 60 federal statutes and numerous state and local laws provide redress. Each law has different remedies, different procedural steps, and different paths for enforcement. Not only can it be difficult to evaluate available legal options depending on each unique set of facts—analysis requires assessing, among other factors, the type of worker one is, which agencies are involved, the content of the disclosure, to whom the disclosure should be (or was) made, and what kind of reprisal was suffered--but it can also be difficult to navigate the legal process once a particular path is chosen.
Below we highlight the primary laws that support the rights of employees and contractors to report serious misconduct they witness on the job.
This list is not comprehensive--it focuses primarily on those legal protections that might apply to employees reporting concerns related to efforts to undermine our democracy. We strongly encourage anyone thinking about blowing the whistle to seek advice from an attorney experienced in representing whistleblowers.