Whistleblower protection in the United States
Whistleblower protection laws and regulations guarantee freedom of speech for workers and contractors in certain situations. Laws, like the Ethics in Government Act, cannot be enforced if the free speech of individuals that report workplace corruption or crime is not protected. The difficulty with the free speech rights of whistleblowers, particularly those in national defense, is that work-related reports associated with classified information can have a negative impact on national security and the public debt. The Supreme Court has limited the constitutional protections guaranteed to Americans under the aegis of the First Amendment in the areas of national defense and government employment.
Civilian employees and military personnel in the intelligence gathering and assessment field are required to sign non-disclosure agreements, a practice upheld by the Supreme Court in Snepp v. United States. The High Court ruled that secrecy agreements circumscribing an individual's disclosure of classified information did not violate their First Amendment rights. Non-disclosure agreements signed by employees create similar conflicts in private business.
An understanding of basic statutory laws, the common law as well as public and private sector personnel regulations is needed to understand how to perform a whistleblower disclosure.
- 1 Law
- 2 Public law
- 2.1 Constitutional Law
- 2.2 False Claims Act
- 2.3 Disability retirement
- 2.4 Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
- 2.5 Ethics in Government Act
- 2.6 Lloyd–La Follette Act
- 2.7 Whistleblower Protection Act
- 2.8 No FEAR Act
- 2.9 Sarbanes-Oxley Act
- 2.10 Freedom of Information Act
- 2.11 Administrative Law
- 2.12 Criminal Law
- 2.13 Common Law
- 2.14 New York State law
- 3 Reporting
- 4 Private companies and non-profit organizations
- 5 Unionization
- 6 Exemptions and limitations to legal protections
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The laws covering whistleblowers fall into two broad categories:
Public law, also known as enacted law, consists of constitutional law, statutes, and administrative law.
The U.S. Office of Independent Council provides training for the managers of federal agencies on how to inform their employees as to whistleblower protections, as required by the Prohibited Personnel Practices Act (5 USC § 2302). The law forbids retaliation for whistleblowing. (See: U.S. Labor Law and Policy below.)
Constitutional law is the body of law generally composed of the constitution (state and federal) as well as any laws established by the executive and legislative branches of government.
Constitutions law is modified by common law through the judicial process.
False Claims Act
Congress enacted the False Claims Act (a.k.a.: the Lincoln Law) to provide a legal framework to deal with military contractors engaged in defrauding the federal government, either through overcharging for products or providing defective war materiel, including food and weapons. The original issue that spurred congressional action was the sale of defective cannons. These cannons were known to blow up and cause casualties among Union troops.
The law provides for civil, but not criminal, penalties and provided a financial incentive for whistleblowers. The incentive equals 15 to 30 percent of the money recovered, which can amount to millions of dollars. In addition to financial compensation, the False Claims Act offers limited protection for workers that provide tips about defective products and services delivered to the U.S. government. This prohibits firing the employee that provided the tip. The statute of limitations may span six years.
The first contractor audit services were established shortly afterward. Defense Contract Administration Service was established in 1956 to consolidate resources. Most of this has been reorganized under Defense Logistics Agency.
The False Claims Act provides civil remedies for non-government workers. Qui tam is a provision under the False Claims Act that allows private individuals to sue on behalf of the government. Separate remedies are available for government workers.
Employees that have become disabled should consider disability retirement. This may be included in the company retirement plan, or it may be covered by a government agency.
- Social Security Disability Planner
- Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
- Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation
Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
Government workers that experience retaliation as a result of whistleblower retaliation must purse defense against those actions under the authority of the Civil Service Reform Act. This establishes the following organizations to manage the federal workforce within the executive branch of government. This covers most of the 3 million federal workers within the United States.
- Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)
- Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
- Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA)
The MSPB is a quasi-judicial organization with enforcement authority for prohibited personnel actions. MSPB is also responsible for reimbursing legal fees in some situations.
Issues that involve discrimination and harassment are pursued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This may include failure to accommodate disability, in addition to inequities involving gender or race.
Federal workers are entitled to financial benefits. Thus, a whistle-blower action should include a beneficial suggestion to reserve the right to potential financial compensation for job-related improvement suggestions.
Other remedies may be available if a federal worker is unable to return to work. Employees with over 5 years government service may be eligible for early retirement if medical records support a finding of disability not accommodated in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Retirement rules are listed in the OPM Retirement Settlement Guide. Early retirement due to medical disability affects about 100,000 federal workers every year, and there are two retirement systems.
The FLRA is an independent administrative federal agency covering certain collective bargaining rights (unions). Postal employee collective bargaining is covered by the Postal Reorganization Act under the United States Postal Service.
Ethics in Government Act
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics is the supervising ethics office for the executive branch.
Supervising ethics offices for other branches of government are as follows.
- Senate Select Committee on Ethics
- House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
- Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct
The Ethics in Government Act provides three protections that apply to whistleblowers.
- Mandatory, public disclosure of financial and employment history of public officials and their immediate family.
- Restrictions on lobbying efforts by public officials for a set period of time after leaving public office.
- Creates the U.S. Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) to investigate government officials.
The U.S. (OIC) deals with ethics rules that cover all government employees and the OIC is responsible for documenting the whistleblower process.
One whistleblower caution is that political activity is prohibited by government employees. Whistleblower contact with elected or appointed officials must include no references to political support, political opposition, and campaigns.
The other caution is that whistleblowers that must leave government employment have time limits that prohibit employment by entities where the government employee was responsible for any contractual interactions, The former government employee may be prohibited from interacting in an official capacity directly with former coworkers still employed by the government.
Lloyd–La Follette Act
The Lloyd–La Follette Act states that "the right of employees ... to furnish information to either House of Congress, or to a committee or Member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied." This legislation prohibits payroll compensation for managers that retaliate against employees that attempt to provide whistleblower disclosure (pay to the manager is suspended).
The intent is to provide direct feedback to Congress from federal employees, most of whom work within the executive branch.
This does not provide protections for employees that violate disclosure rules associated with unauthorized classified information disclosure and other types of unauthorized public disclosure associated with issues like law enforcement investigation and juvenile records. Unauthorized disclosures of classified information are prohibited, so job-specific issues should be disclosed to the appropriate legislative committee, where members should hold the appropriate clearance.
As a general rule, Lloyd-La Follette disclosures should cover a topic that will benefit the government if the issue could be resolved by congressional involvement when the resolution would not be supported as a beneficial suggestion and would be opposed by management.
Whistleblower Protection Act
The Whistleblower Protection Act was enacted to protect government employees from management retaliation, but the Supreme Court has ruled this protection only applies to government workers when the disclosure is not directly related to the job. The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) uses agency lawyers in the place of "administrative law judges" to decide federal employees’ whistleblower appeals. These lawyers, dubbed "attorney examiners," deny 98% of whistleblower appeals; the Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals give great deference to their initial decisions, resulting in affirmance rates of 97% and 98%, respectively.
This is the first protection made available to protect free speech rights for federal workers that can otherwise be fired for reporting corruption. In October 2012, Barack Obama signed Presidential Policy Directive 19, which extended the same protections to employees of intelligence and national security agencies, who had been excluded from the legislation by Congress.
While not necessarily protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, private employers should be prohibited from firing workers after the worker has disclosed criminal activity to organizations like OSHA, EPA, SEC, FBI, or other similar organizations (False Claims Act).
Whistleblower Protection does not always protect federal workers. The Supreme Court ruling excludes whistleblower actions covered in the job description for federal workers. Job related issues must go through the hierarchy of the organization. When that fails, the issue must be brought to the attention of MSPB, EEOC, or OPM if it impacts employment. Unclassified issues not directly related to the job that in turn do not have a negative impact on national security or law enforcement may be suitable for public disclosure. Public disclosure would obviously cover things like sexual harassment, racism, stalking, slander, and pesticide exposure if you are not employed as an exterminator.
Crimes involving public transportation or federal employees should be disclosed to the Inspector General for Department of Transportation.
No FEAR Act
The No Fear Act discourages federal managers and supervisors from engaging in unlawful discrimination and retaliation. The main purpose is to pay awards for discrimination and retaliation violations out of the agency budget. Employer obligations under the No FEAR Act are as follows (requires annual training).
- Notify employees and applicants for employment about their rights under the discrimination and whistleblower laws
- Post statistical data relating to Federal sector equal employment opportunity complaints on its public website
- Ensure that managers have training in the management of a diverse workforce, early and alternative conflict resolution, and essential communications skills
- Conduct studies on the trends and causes of complaints of discrimination
- Implement new measures to improve the complaint process and the work environment
- Initiate timely and appropriate discipline against employees who engage in misconduct related to discrimination or reprisal
- Reimburse the Judgment Fund for any discrimination and whistleblower related settlements or judgments that reach in Federal court
- Produce annual reports of status and progress to Congress, the Attorney General and the U.S. Equal Employment Commission
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act establishes mandatory whistleblower disclosures under certain circumstances with criminal penalties if mandated reporters fail to disclose. This requires registration and accurate reporting for funding instruments, like stocks and bonds used to finance private industry. Some corporate officers are required to report irregularities (mandated reporters).
Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act can provide access to information required to pursue a whistleblower action.
As an example, the use of hazardous chemicals must be disclosed to employees, such as pesticides. Injury due to hazardous chemical exposure, radiation, and other hazards permanently disable 100,000 federal workers each year. Notification of hazardous chemical exposure is also required by Right to know. FIFRA requires pest control professionals to maintain records for at least 2 years, and records maintained by government employees and contractors must be made available to the public upon request.
Federal employers, like Department of Defense, are self-policing and not subject to oversight by OSHA and EPA. Managers operating outside OSHA and EPA lack education and training so lack competency required to avoid workplace injuries.
Right to know is necessary for workplace safety involving things like chemical injury, radiation injury and other occupational illnesses where the cause may not be discovered by physicians without disclosures that are required by law. Workplace hazards must be prominently displayed and public hazards must be disclose to state and county agencies.
A FOIA request is the most valuable law that supports Whistleblower actions when a Right to know violation has occurred. This kind of request cannot be made anonymously and fees may be required. There may be an advantage if the request is made through an unrelated individual, such as a union official or another member of the community.
Right to know is just one example of many reasons why an FOIA request may be needed to pursue a whistleblower action.
Over 90% of federal government workers are employed within the executive branch, so are covered by Executive Orders.
- EO 12674 Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees
- EO 12356 National Security Information
Organizations within the executive branch usually provide simplified information to clarify public law for managers and workers.
Individuals that have a mandate to uphold law and public policy include the following.
Other organizations that provide similar information are as follows.
- Health and Human Services
- Department of Homeland Security
- Directives.htm US Marshals Service
- US DoD
- US Navy
- See: Departmental, Headquarters Air Force, or Air National Guard
- US Army
Senior officers that fail to act on information regarding crime or incompetence are subject to permanent reduction in rank or court martial so must act on Whistleblower information. Civilians that occupy senior pay grades have similar requirements and restrictions.
States are organized in much the same way, and executive orders are issued by governors.
Hazardous chemical exposure provides a good example of whistleblower action.
Disclosure and product safety are the difference between legal insecticide application and assault with a deadly weapon.
In most areas, physicians are mandated to file a report for "Any person suffering from any wound or other physical injury inflicted upon the person where the injury is the result of assaultive or abusive conduct." Mandated reporters are obligated to submit a report to a local law enforcement agency as follows.
- The name and location of the injured person, if known.
- The character and extent of the person's injuries.
- The identity of any person the injured person alleges inflicted the wound, other injury, or assaultive or abusive conduct upon the injured person.
Employers must inform and train employees prior to insecticide exposure to avoid criminal prosecution that could occur in addition to workers compensation obligations when the employee consults a physician.
In United States common law, non-criminal battery is "harmful or offensive" contact resulting in injury that does not include intent to commit harm. This is called tortuous battery, and this falls into the same category as automobile accidents which are handled with workers compensation. This is applicable even if there is a delay between the harmful act and the resulting injury.
The definition of criminal battery is: (1) unlawful application of force (2) to the person of another (3) resulting in bodily injury. For example, a crime has been committed if the employer fails to disclose insecticide exposure in accordance with public law (unlawful force) then subsequently violates the product labelling in the assigned work area (to the person) resulting in permanent disability (bodily injury).
Insecticide injury is an accident and not a crime if EPA is informed, employees are properly trained prior to exposure, and product label restrictions are not violated. Similar principles apply to rental property occupants, occupants of public buildings like schools, and customers exposed by a business owner.
Criminal penalties also exist within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act regarding company finance.
Financial irregularities involving Misappropriation is one area where criminal penalties apply to federal managers. Funds allocated by congress for one purpose may not be spent for a different purpose, including payroll. The U.S. Navy provides an example.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001 establishes criminal penalties for false statements. This applies to false statements exchanged between any two federal employees, which includes managers, appointed officials, and elected officials.
Criminal penalties also apply when crimes occur in the workplace, as is often the case with an injury. For example, illness after workplace exposure to hazardous substances requires access to the Material safety data sheet and Workers compensation for medical evaluation. Failure to post mandatory information is a crime.
Retaliation remedies are limited to withholding payroll from the manager and civil remedies that involve the Civil Service Reform Act.
State laws are also applicable to federal workers, and California provides an example.
U.S. Labor Law and Policy
Employer activity that is not prohibited by law is usually permitted. Ignorance of the law does not make something legal. Managers cannot order people to participate in situations that involve something that is illegal, unethical, or unhealthful, but may continue to do so until there is a dispute.
Workers will often prevail if some kind of law or public policy can be used to justify a dispute. When a dispute goes to grievance, then laws and policies need to be cited, otherwise the dispute may fail. The following resources may help.
- Employment Law: Department of Labor
- Environmental Law: Environmental Protection Agency
- Occupational Health & Safety Law: Department of Labor
- Indoor Air Quality: Environmental Protection Agency
- Restricted Use Products: Environmental Protection Agency
- Worker Protection Standard: Environmental Protection Agency
- Hazard Communication: Environmental Protection Agency
- GSA: Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (federal building code)
United States labor practices and related laws are covered in the following.
- United States Code, Title 9: Arbitration (union workers)
- United States Code, Title 29: Labor (all workers)
State laws are also applicable to all workers (including federal workers).
The following is applicable specifically to federal workers.
- United States Code, Title 5: Government Organization and Employees (government workers)
- United States Code, Title 40: Public Buildings, Properties, and Works
- United States Code of Federal Regulation, Title 29: Labor
- United States Code of Federal Regulation, Title 32: National Defense
- United States Code of Federal Regulation, Title 40: Protection of Environment
- Federal Rules
The Prohibited Personnel Practices Act amended United States Code, Title 5: Government Organization and Employees to provide federal employees with whistleblower protection. The law forbids retaliation for whistleblowing.
One of the more serious concerns is workplace safety, and failure to satisfy building codes established by the International Code Council can have a negative impact on occupational safety. Buildings constructed before 1990 probably do not satisfy these requirements.
As an example, managers may not recognize the reason for elevated illness rates when fresh air ventilation for the building is shut down. The building no longer satisfies OSHA laws and building codes without fresh air. EPA recommends fresh air exchange of no less than 15 cfm/person to prevent accumulation of toxic chemicals in the air, like the carbon dioxide that is exhaled in human breath. Inadequate fresh air will cause illness or death due to excess buildup of toxic gasses inside buildings.
Building codes applicable to most areas of the United States are as follows.
- Air Ventilation: EPA
- International Building Code
- International Plumbing Code
- International Mechanical Code
- National Electric Code
- National Fire Protection Association
Common law is the body of law established by judges under the authority of decisions issued by courts. Legal decisions issued by courts form precedent that can modify public law. The principle of stare decisis applies to common law, and this obligates judges to respect the precedents established by prior decisions made by other courts.
Issues that involve federal agencies apply to federal courts, and federal courts must observe laws established within the state in which that federal agency operates. Labor disputes for private employees that go to court usually begin at the county or state. Labor disputes involving federal workers begin in federal court.
State courts apply only to state government, however, state courts have an obligation to observe common law established at the federal level, in addition to observing federal law that are not modified by state laws.
Proof is often required to substantiate the credibility of whistleblower complaints, but state and federal law may prohibit photographs, and video that are the most important types of proof.
The US Supreme Court has stripped whistleblower protections for most government workers. Garcetti v. Ceballos is a decision that indicates that first amendment protection for free speech does not apply to situations that fall within the scope of the job description associated with the employment of each individual government worker. The Supreme Court decision means that government management may discipline government employees that disclose crime and incompetence under certain circumstances.
Job related functions are supposed to be disclosed to management by grievance (usually through the union), to the Inspector General, to the [Office of Special Council], to appointed officials, or to elected officials. This is counterproductive when the employer has violated the law, and agencies responsible for enforcement actions are often not funded.
Issues that exist outside the job-description are not prohibited by Garcetti v. Ceballos. Public disclosure of the work environment not related to work assignments does not compromise essential functions like national security and law enforcement. In theory, criminal penalties apply to managers that discipline employees for public disclosure of situations outside the job description.
The following are some examples of situations outside the job description.
- Undisclosed hazardous material exposure when the hazard is not in the job description
- Unauthorized acceptance of defective goods or services when the defect is not associated with the job description
- Sexual harassment, racial discrimination, slander, and stalking
- Failure to provide meals, breaks, and rest time
- Compulsory work assignments without pay.
New York State law
New York has its own statute regarding whistleblowing. A school nurse who was fired, due to mandated reporting, of a single case of child abuse that was allegedly "covered up", could seek protection under N.Y. law.
Even though EPA and OSHA may provide no direct services for government workers, a report should be filed.
Senior executives and military officers at the rank Colonel/Captain or above have an obligation to act on Whistleblower information.
Financial or business irregularities may be reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Attorney General, District Attorney, Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or other law enforcement agency.
One caution is that government employees can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial based on hear-say from coworkers, so whistleblower reporting cannot be done casually. If the information that is being reported is classified, then the recipient must have a need-to-know and the recipient must hold a security clearance. The need-to-know criteria generally mean that the issue that is being disclosed will benefit the government if the dispute is resolved. A dispute that does not provide a benefit to the government is more appropriate for a labor dispute.
Government ethics laws are a complicated maze with unpredictable combinations. As an example, any business interests and tax records for a public employee is public domain because disclosure is required by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 and this information must be made available to anyone that requests that information because of the Freedom of Information Act. This applies to all government employees, including elected and political appointments.
Federal employment is governed by the Merit Promotion Protection Board. This applies to positions that are not filled by election or appointment.
Workers that report crime or incompetence may get injured while at work. Federal workers, energy workers, long shoremen, and coal workers injured at work must contact US Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation.
Private companies and non-profit organizations
Private companies and non-profit organizations benefit when whistleblower protection is included in company policies and bylaws. Fines, penalties, and lawsuits may be avoided when immunity from prosecution is granted to any employee that notifies an owner or member of the board of directors when other employees or managers become involved in unethical or illegal activity on behalf of the organization.
Workers must assert their rights to obtain any kind of protection.
One caution related to a labor dispute is that all union leadership team members are also employees, and these employees have job assignments. Lighter job assignments are usually given union leaders. This often includes fewer travel assignments in addition to not requiring the union leadership team members to be in the workplace during work hours. Management has the right to change the job assignment for union leaders. This includes family separation using long-term travel assignments.
The whistleblower must understand the labor dispute process because union leadership may be corrupt.
The employee must initiate a labor dispute to protect their employment rights when reprisal occurs after a whistleblower disclosure. Employee rights are protected by Labor law in the United States. These rights are not automatically guaranteed if the employee fails to start the process in a timely manner.
Employees with no collective bargaining organization are directly represented by state labor boards, unemployment offices, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This describes employees where no union steward is available at the work-site.
The dispute must be disclosed to the employer. If there is a union contract, then the process described in the contract should be followed. If there is no union agreement then a disagreement with the employer should be discussed directly with government organizations that provide employee protection for the area of the disagreement. A labor dispute that progresses beyond words begins with a grievance.
The grievance starts a timer that usually prohibits the employer from taking negative action against the employee (and union steward). For example, a whistleblower complaint prohibits negative employer action for 90 to 180 days. A conventional grievance should provide a 30-day window. This prohibits things like workplace lockout, withholding payroll and firing. Each new employer action can be used to justify a new grievance.
When an employee grievance prevails, the lower level supervisors that were involved in the dispute may be temporarily prohibited from promotion. Manager pay may be suspended in situations where there was a whistleblower reprisal or other crime. This provides a manager incentive not to use unethical tactics to prevail. The employee must ensure the nature of the dispute is factual, justified, and substantiated.
- Factual: no false or misleading statements
- Justified: legal justification to sway a judge or jury to favor the employee
- Substantiated: evidence, testimonials, and witnesses that will support the facts
A grievance should include the following.
- Organization information (name and location)
- Employee contact information (name, address, and telephone)
- Manager contact information (name, address, and telephone)
- Employee Occupation
- Nature of complaint
- Desired resolution
- Employee signature and date
- Manager reply, signature and date
The original grievance is given to the first level manager and a copy is kept (immediate supervisor). If there is a union, then a copy should be given to a member of the union leadership team. If the manager reply is unacceptable, then the grievance is updated, attached to copies of the original, and given to the manager that supervises of the first level manager (second level supervisor). This continues from manager to manager upward through the organization. The time allowed for each manager response is usually 30 days. The time allowed for the employee response is usually 7 days. The nature of the complaint may expand to include further information at each step.
When an employee dispute involves an employer that is a member of a collective bargaining unit then the grievance process is described in the collective bargaining agreement. U.S. Code Title 5 Section 7121 for federal workers provides an example framework.
If no resolution is achieved at the top level for the local organization, or if the process takes too long, then the process is brought to the attention of the appropriate government organization.
Collective bargaining protects the employer as much as the employee. The grievance process described above provides time for the employer to correct situations that violate ethics rules or laws before enforcement action becomes necessary. Federal employees that are members of a union are generally restricted to binding arbitration. Employees not limited to binding arbitration may sue in court.
When there is no labor union or if the union dispute process has produced no productive results, or if the process takes too long, then the issue is provided to the National Labor Review Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Merit Promotion Protection Board, the Inspector General, Senator, Representative, the President, the Department of Justice, the Industrial Accidents Board, or other organization. A copy should be mailed to the officer or senior executive in charge of the top level managers in the local organization because other employees may interfere with regular delivery.
A grievance needs to cite an issue involving [tort|tort law], common law, or [crime|public law] to be effective. There is no obligation for any enforcement action for issues that do not violate law. Failure to provide pay for hours worked, criminal activity, dangerous activity, assault, failure to provide time for meals/breaks, failure to provide safe working conditions, hostile work environment (harassment), and failure to accommodate handicap are common reasons for employee complaints.
The direct supervisor may order an employee to attend a meeting. The employee must attend a meeting during regular working hours but there are limitations. U.S. government employees cannot leave the meeting or work area except in situations involving disability or illness. Government leave policy is established by public law. Employees working for private companies operate under different rules, and restricting employee movement may be an arrest in some areas if state laws require time for employee breaks and meals. Government employees are at greater risk of serious abuse by managers due to unequal protection.
One word of caution is that Fifth Amendment protection may be lost if the employee answers questions, and it is necessary to reassert this right during the meeting after answering any questions. The meeting may involve very little conversation after the employee has asserted their constitutional rights and demanded the details of the accusation.
Employees must assert additional rights when ordered to attend a meeting that may involve any type of dispute. There is nothing that requires an employee to provide any information during a meeting if the topic involves a labor dispute, but the employee is entitled to be told the specific nature of any possible dispute. The following should be demanded.
- Job description
- Performance evaluation criteria
- Performance evaluation
- Improvement expectations
Employees must never make false statements during any meeting, and meeting participants risk fine or prison when false statements are made when a federal worker is present. False statements made in the presence of a federal employee are a crime, and this includes any statement made during an official meeting at a federal facility. Some states may have similar laws.
A court order may be required for telephone voice recording in some areas. Ordinary voice recording in some areas, such as California, requires consent of all parties before the recording can be used in a courtroom or during arbitration. Most meeting minutes are documented in writing by all parties, and the minutes are signed and dated at the end of the meeting.
The employees must request the specific nature of any accusation under the Sixth Amendment with the assumption that an unresolved dispute will be decided in a courtroom under the protections provided by the Seventh Amendment. Employees cannot be compelled to answer questions about potential crimes under the assumption that all such questions fall under the protection of the Fifth Amendment. No employee may be denied these protections for any reason. The specific constitutional protections are as follows.
If the meeting is a disciplinary hearing or a performance appraisal meeting for a government employee, and if the employee is told that any area of job performance is less-than-perfect, then the employee is entitled to be told about specific improvements for each less-than-perfect rating. The appraisal must fall within the boundaries of the job description. If any area of the appraisal falls outside the scope of any diploma, license, or prior training used during the hiring process, then the employer is responsible for training necessary to improve the skills that are part of the evaluation. The employer is required to allow an improvement period before reevaluation. Some employers may require employees to pay for their own training in some areas as a hiring condition.
Another protection is false imprisonment. The employer cannot lock doors and cannot forcibly move the employee against their will unless an arrest has been performed, including a Miranda warning. The Sixth amendment requires that the employee must be told about the reason when moved against their will or detained against their will.
Rules vary by state, but employees are usually entitled to a 15-minute paid break every 2 hours and 1 hour unpaid meals every 4 hours. In most states, employees are entitled to overtime for any missed break periods, and state labor protection rules extend to federal workers.
One of the benefits of union representation is Weingarten Rights to reduce employer abuse. Employees not represented by a union may have limited Weingartern Rights, and may not be entitled to witnesses during a meeting. The employee and the union representative have the right to management information related to the dispute and both the employee and the union representative may take an active role during any meetings. Weingarten Rights are as follows.
- Employee has the right to union representation during discussion requested by management
- Employee must ask manager if the discussion may involve disciplinary action
- Employee must ask the union steward to attend the discussion
- Employee must inform employer that union representation has been requested
- If employer refuses union representation:
1. State "If this discussion could in any way result in my being disciplined or terminated then I respectfully request union representation. I choose to not respond to questions or statements without union representation."
2. Take notes, do not answer questions, do not sign documents, and inform union after discussion
- Employee has the right to speak privately with union representation before the discussion and during the discussion
- The union representative is an active participant. She or he is not just a passive witness.
Government employees also have Garrity rights to assert fifth amendment protection related to employment that is completely different from Miranda rights that apply to employees working for private companies.
One issue with public employees is that certain workplace situations violate public law. Government employees that deviate from office procedures may violate laws, such as the New Jersey ticket fixing scandal and the Minnesota ticket fixing scandal. Employees that carry pesticide into the workplace from home violate the Hazard Communication Standard.
Managers may threaten to take disciplinary employment action if an employee fails to disclose criminal activity. Government employees also have Garrity Rights, and must assert the following when questioned by management. This must be separate from any report or statement from management if made in writing.
- "On ____________— (date) _________— (time), at ____________— (place) I was ordered by _________________— (superior officer, name & rank) to submit this report (statement) as a condition of continued employment. In view of possible job forfeiture, I have no alternative but to abide by this order and to submit this compelled report (statement).
- It is my belief and understanding that this report (statement) will not and can not be used against me by any governmental agency or related entity in any subsequent proceedings, other than disciplinary proceedings within the confines of the department itself.
- For any and all other purposes, I hereby assert my Constitutional right to remain silent under the FIFTH and FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT to the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION and any other rights prescribed by (state) laws. Further, I rely specifically upon the protection afforded me under the doctrines set forth in Garrity v New Jersey, 385 US 493 (1967), Gardner v Broderick, 392 US 273 (1968), and their progeny, should this report (statement) be used for any other purpose of whatsoever kind or description."
- The employer shall not order or otherwise compel a public employee, under threat of discipline, to waive the immunity of the asserted Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination with respect to any submitted statement or report or answers to questions. (Employees shall not condition their compliance with a lawful order to submit reports, statements, etc. on non-disclosure to third parties by the Employer.)
- Propriety of the discipline shall be determined through the collective bargaining agreement grievance arbitration process.
National Labor Review Board helps to form federal unions, investigate charges, seek resolutions, decide cases, and enforce orders. The NRLB oversees the formation of the union, and election process associated with selecting union officials.
Employers are obligated to inform employees about assistance programs associated with workplace injuries or illness, and union representatives are obligated to follow up on this information. Employers are required to allow the local union representative to attend meetings. The employer cannot interfere with support provided by the union representative.
A collective bargaining agreement (contract) is a set of bylaws that establishes a partnership agreement between two groups of people, where one group is management and the other group is employees. The collective bargaining agreement also provides the same protection for managers, except managers are not entitled to union representation during labor disputes.
The collective bargaining agreement is separate from the union charter, which is the set of rules and regulations governing the activities of the labor union members.
- Voting and elections
- Union meetings
- Meeting notification
A union may be organized as a business or corporate entity under U.S. Code Title 26, Section 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and/or 501(c)(5) if the labor organization is large enough to conduct banking transactions. A bank, credit union, savings and loan, or other financial organization can be consulted to determine the local requirements needed to establish an account. This allows funds to be collected for a common purpose.
Exemptions and limitations to legal protections
There are certain limitations and exemptions to the legal protections for whistleblowers in the U.S. With regard to federal legislation, the broadest law is the Whistleblower Protection Act, however its protections only apply to federal employees. Both public and private employees may be protected under topic-specific federal laws such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act but such laws cover only a narrow, specific area of unlawful activity. Private sector employees are not protected by federal whistleblower protection statutes if they report either violations of federal laws with no whistleblower protection provisions or violations of state laws, although they may have some protection under local laws. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report stating that employees who reported illegal activities did not receive enough protection from retaliation by their employers. Based on data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, only 21% of the 1800 whistleblower cases reviewed by the agency in 2007 had "a favorable outcome" for the whistleblower. The GAO found that the key issues were lack of resources for investigating employees' claims and the legal complexity of whistleblower protection regulations.
In the United States, union officials are exempted from whistleblower laws. There are currently no legal protections for employees of labor unions who report union corruption, and such employees can be dismissed from employment should they raise any allegations of financial impropriety. The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which legislates against union corruption, includes protections for whistleblowers, however the Supreme Court has ruled that these protections only apply to union members and not to employees of labor unions.
- Larry D. Lahman, "Bad Mules: A Primer on the Federal False Claims Act", 76 Okla. B. J. 901, 901 (2005) http://www.okbar.org/obj/articles_05/040905lahman.htm
- Curry, William Sims (2010). Government Contracting: Promises and Perils. CRC Press. pp. 205. ISBN 9781420085662.
- Rose-Ackerman, Susan (1999). Corruption and Government: Causes, Consequences, and Reform. Cambridge University Press. pp. 58. ISBN 9780521659123.
- [Robert J. McCarthy, "Blowing in the Wind: Answers for Federal Whistleblowers," 3 WILLIAM & MARY POLICY REVIEW 184 (2012)]
- "Presidential Policy Directive 19" (PDF). October 10, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
- Joe Davidson (October 11, 2012). "Obama issues whistleblower directive to security agencies". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
- "2010 California Code, Penal Code, Article 2. Reports Of Injuries". Justia US Law Library.
- See, e.g. Fisher v Carrousel Motor Hotel, Inc., 424 S.W.2d 627 (1967).
- See, e.g., Leichtman v. WLW Jacor Communications, 92 Ohio App.3d 232 (1994) (cause of action for battery where tortfeasor blew cigarette smoke in another's face).
- "2010 Florida Code, TITLE XLVI CRIMES, Chapter 784 ASSAULT; BATTERY; CULPABLE NEGLIGENCE 784.03 Battery; felony battery.". Justia US Law LIbrary.
- "Wiretapping and Eavesdropping on Telephone Calls | Privacy Rights Clearinghouse". privacyrights.org. 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
- N.Y. Labor Law § 740.
- See N.Y. Social Services L. § 413.
- Vilarin v. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein School, 96 A.D. 1 (1st Dep't 2012).
- Leonard M. Rosenberg, "In New York Courts", NYSBA Health Journal, 6, Summer/Fall 2012 (Vol. 17, No. 3).
- Sinzdak, Gerard (2008). "An Analysis of Current Whistleblower Laws: Defending a More Flexible Approach to Reporting Requirements" (PDF). California Law Review 96 (6): 1633–1669. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
- "GAO: Nation’s Whistleblower Laws Inadequately Enforced, Needs Additional Resources". democrats.edworkforce.house.gov. Committee on Education and the Workforce. Feb 26, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
- Tremoglie, Michael P. (June 4, 2012). "Group urges OSHA to protect union whistleblowers". Legal Newsline. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
- Sherk, James (May 23, 2012). "Extend Whistle-Blower Protections to Union Employees". heritage.org. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved June 29, 2012.