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Veterans Affairs whistleblowers subject to retaliation

When an employee sees something amiss at work, there shouldn't be a reason to stop them from doing something to resolve the issue. Fear of losing work or facing ridicule and mistreatment prevents some employees from speaking up even though they should expect protection for doing so.

Despite federal legal protections for workplace whistleblowers, a new report finds one government agency has a history of retaliating against whistleblowers at alarming rates.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report this week finding whistleblowers in the Department of Veterans Affairs are up to 10 times more likely to face disciplinary action than their coworkers. In one startling statistic, 66 percent of employees who filed complaints did not work for the VA within a year of reporting.

Federal whistleblower protections guarantee employees who file complaints will not experience backlash for doing so. Protections for employees include expectations that an employer will not retaliate in these and other ways after an employee reports potential misconduct:

  • Deny an employee a promotion or overtime opportunity
  • Harass or otherwise intimidate an employee
  • Cut an employee's work hours or pay rate
  • Demote an employee from a position
  • Terminate an employee's role in the workplace

Even with these protections in place, employees in VA medical centers experienced disciplinary actions at a rate 10 times higher than other employees. This culture of punishing employees who speak out does nothing but protect the offenders who are misbehaving or otherwise failing to do their jobs.

VA consistently lessened recommended punishments

In addition to discovering retaliation against whistleblowers, the GAO report indicated the VA Accountability Office consistently ignored proposed penalties for senior officials in misconduct cases.

In cases where the recommendation was to removal the alleged offender, the VA chose to reprimand, admonish, offer retirement or doing nothing at all instead of following the removal recommendation. Some of these penalties were in cases of whistleblower retaliation, meaning the VA did not actually the employee from retaliation the way the law expects.

For employees reporting possible misconduct, the biggest reason not to do so is the fear of backlash. Losing pay or being fired can seem like too big a risk to take, particularly if a workplace has a pattern of not protecting employees who speak up about wrongdoing.

What potential whistleblowers can do

If you want to speak up about misconduct in your workplace, know that you have protections and should receive better protection than what the VA employees experienced.  A lawyer with experience in protecting whistleblowers can help you better understand and use the resources available to you.

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