Chapter 25: Whistleblower protections Skip to content Skip to footer


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Whistleblowers are protected by U.S. Department of Labor regulations and administrative law in the context of safety complaints in the airline industry, the nuclear industry, certain environmental protections and surface transportation industry.

Federal whistleblower statutes protect employees against retaliatory personnel actions after reporting violations of federal laws or regulations. 

Civilian defense contractors are also covered under federal defense contractor statutes, which provide whistleblower protection for those employees who report contract-related violations to the government. This statute covers employees of civilian defense and space contractors and allows an employee to disclose information about a contract law violation without retaliation by the employer. This protection extends to “whistleblowing” with regard to the competition for and negotiation of defense contracts.

To qualify for protection under this statute, the employee must disclose any information regarding violations to a member of Congress, an authorized official of the Defense Department or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or to the Justice Department.

The federal defense contractor whistleblower statute protects against discharge, demotion or any other form of discrimination against an employee for disclosing violations. An employee who believes to have been subjected to retaliation must file a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) or one of the covered agencies. The OIG will conduct an investigation, summarize the findings of the investigation and submit the report to the agency head. The agency head will then make a determination as to whether the contractor is guilty of retaliation.

If the agency head finds the contractor committed the prohibited retaliation, it may order the contractor to perform any of the following actions:

  • reinstate the employee with back pay
  • pay costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the employee
  • take other measures to remedy the situation.

Avoiding whistleblowing claims

In addition to employee lawsuits, whistleblower claims can be very damaging to employers because of the possibility of the negative publicity and government investigations that may follow. Employers wishing to reduce the possibility of litigation or administrative review should implement the following safeguards:

  • Investigate and document allegations by employees alleging retaliatory personnel actions.
  • Implement procedures to encourage employees to report to the company any information or concerns about the company’s compliance programs.
  • Have alternative channels that an employee may use to report questionable conduct so that employees do not have to report through to the “chain of command” of a person who may be violating company policies or legal standards.
  • Conduct supervisor training on how to handle such reports from employees.
  • Conduct supervisor training on how to avoid retaliating against those who have made complaints.
  • Maintain records to show favorable job treatment, such as pay raises and promotions, of employees who have engaged in whistle blowing to be able to show that the company does not retaliate against whistleblowers.
  • Be careful about actions taken against whistleblower employees – if in doubt, contact an attorney.
  • Maintain an atmosphere that encourages employees to come forward to express their concerns. Communicate genuine appreciation to employees who do so, which will undermine claims that the employer retaliates against whistleblowers.
  • Maintain documents that demonstrate each of the prior steps.