Whistleblowing refers to a person, usually an employee, that “blows the whistle” or reports their employer’s illegal or fraudulent actions to an outside agency or the government. Whistleblowers are protected by a wide array of state and federal laws. Employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees who act as whistleblowers by firing them or denying them benefits. 

Which Federal Laws Protect Whistleblowers?

Federal law regarding whistleblowers has been described as a “patchwork of laws” because the various regulations and statutes are scattered over a variety of employment law areas. Here are some of the major laws that govern and protect whistleblowers:  
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (also called “SOX”): This act provides protection for whistleblowers in a publicly-traded reporting corporation. It also requires corporate employers to provide procedures for employees making anonymous complaints. Additionally, the act makes it a criminal offense punishable by fines or up to 10 years imprisonment for employers to retaliate against whistleblowers.
  • The False Claims Act: This law allows persons who are not associated with the government to file a claim of fraud against the Federal government or its agencies. Some of the features of this law are:
    • Prohibits people from knowingly presenting to the government a false claim regarding payments or other financial issues
    • Allows the citizen who is filing the claim to collect a portion of the awards from proceedings (usually 15-25%). This is known as “qui tam,” where the citizen is allowed to file “on behalf” of the government
    Keep in mind that several states have their own versions of the False Claims Act.
  • The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (the “No-FEAR” Act): This act applies only to employees of federal agencies. It raises work standards for federal agencies and implements more strict whistleblowing mandates, including:
    • Federal agencies must notify all employees of their rights under whistleblower laws
    • They must also provide procedures for processing complaints
    • The agency employers must provide investigations of complaints regarding equal employment opportunity violations
    • Federal agents who violate whistleblower policies will be subject to discipline
  • Whistleblower Protection Act: This law was implemented in 1989 and revised in 2002. It also provides protection for whistleblowers who work for the federal government. This act led to the creation of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) which investigates complaints from federal employees. However, the act was challenged in a recent Supreme Court Case and is currently undergoing restructuring.
  • The Military Whistleblower Protection Act: This act allows members of the armed forces to complain to a member of Congress. 

Which Law Do I Rely on to Report My Employer for Misconduct?