What if you’re a federal employee who saw a coworker breaking the law, but when you reported the behavior to your supervisor, you were told to keep quiet? Would you tell your supervisor’s boss about what happened? Would you go to the appropriate legal authorities and tell them what’s going on?
Perhaps you realize that your boss has instituted a policy that results in the violation of federal environmental protection laws. Many federal employees face this kind of ethical dilemma at their workplaces on a daily basis. Should you report illegal behavior that you witness at your work even if it could result in the loss of your job or some other negative employment consequence? In fact, employees who report illegal behavior can receive protection under the federal law from any kind of retaliation.
Even if the reported behavior turns out to be lawful, the federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 will protect the reporting employee from retaliatory firing and other employment retaliations. Employees who have suffered from this kind of retaliation can file a federal complaint regarding their mistreatment. Employees living in states with approved Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plans, can file under state laws as well.
If you witnessed wrongful or unlawful behavior at your workplace, you don’t have to keep quiet. However, what you may want to do before reporting the behavior is familiarize yourself with your legal rights and options — and the various state and federal protections — that you will have as a whistleblower. With this kind of knowledge, you can report the behavior safely without fear of retaliation.