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Broader appeal routes open for federal whistleblower claimants

Sports teams put a lot of stock in the concept of the home-field advantage. One can argue whether there is any truth to it. Many observers suggest that any edge provided is mainly psychological. Regardless, the topic seems to be a significant point of any contest conversation

This all comes to mind in light of an act recently signed into law. Proponents of the All Circuit Review Act say the intention is to ensure that federal workers who blow the whistle on potential fraud have greater choice of venue if they have to appeal a denial of a claim of employer retaliation.

Whistleblowers can take heart

Anyone with any experience in this complex area of activity knows that whistleblowing is not for the faint of heart. The financial reward can be significant if a case is successful, but pending the outcome, the individual bringing issues to light can face a host of consequences.

Even though anonymity is supposed to be assured, names leak. Employers are legally prohibited from retaliating, but it happens. Suspected whistleblowers can see their reputations dragged through the mud, their chances for promotion and careers shot. Repercussions can extend to others in the employee's family unless protective steps are taken, starting with consulting with an attorney.

The most significant provision of the new law is that it provides government workers, job applicants and the Office of Personnel Management the right to appeal Merit Systems Protection Board decisions to federal appeals courts in their home regions.

Prior to this, the law required appeals to be go to the federal appeals circuit based in Washington, D.C. And as one whistleblowing advocacy group observes, that court has been distinctly anti-whistleblower. According to the Make it Safe Coalition, out of 243 cases it reviewed, 240 went against the whistleblowers.

Considering that most federal workers don't work or live in Washington, advocacy groups welcome the law. But they also encourage would-be-whistleblowers to keep certain things in mind. These include:

  • Don't delay. The law requires meeting time deadlines for filing a claim. Missing one could cost the case and the hope of any compensation.
  • Expect the worst. Whistleblowing is the most effective means available for rooting out corruption, but not without creating a lot of waves.
  • Refuse hush money. Employers, especially private corporations, have been known to offer financial settlements that include gag orders that can result in wrongdoing never being corrected.
  • Seek legal advice from outside counsel. Compliance officers and supervisors work for the company or the government. Not you. Consult your own attorney to be sure you know your rights and protect your options.

The All Circuit Review Act is the latest legislative effort aimed at supporting whistleblowers. It won't be the last. To use the law effectively, however, seek out the wisdom of an experienced attorney.

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