On July 30th, employee advocates across the country will be urging their members of Congress to declare July 30th National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. July 30th is an apt choice for such a day, as it was on that day in 1778 that the Continental Congress passed the first ever law protecting brave employees who wanted to keep our country free of fraud and crime. But America has a long way to go before those who blow the whistle are always lauded or considered heroes.
Fewer labels create such extreme, polarizing views than that of “Whistleblower.” For that reason, there can be a stigma attached to the act that prevents honest employees from coming forward when they see wrongdoing, knowing that they are risking their jobs, their freedom, and in some cases their personal safety to do so.
When it comes to whistleblowing in the area of National Security, the issue can be extremely divisive. Signed in October 2012, Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19) was President Obama’s attempt to address the issue in the wake of such newsmakers as Edward Snowden. When considering matters of intelligence or national security, U.S. courts have a tendency to cede to the other branches’ right to keep secrets. While it doesn’t take a foreign policy genius to realize that at least some secrecy is necessary to maintain the safety and security of the US and our nation’s interests abroad, June’s hearings on federal employee whistleblowers only highlighted the need for additional protections for those employees interested in protecting the interests of the American people by shining a light on wrongdoing.
In some circumstances, federal employees may be subject to protection from retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act. But the act doesn’t cover every wrong that may be reported. It is also limited by who may make a report and to whom the report may be made. If not reported in compliance with whistleblower laws, whistleblowers can lose their jobs for reporting government waste and fraud without any recourse.
Last month, the NSA announced plans to disband certain surveillance programs. This might never have happened without Senator Wyden’s infamous question to Director Clapper after Edward Snowden’s controversial disclosures. Needless to say, it can be difficult for a member of either Intelligence Committee to bring to the public eye any issue discovered. The Senate hearings on the brave employees who brought real issues to the public’s attention have shown that the American people’s interests are not always being protected by the government’s actions. The price of national security should not be the rights of employees.
Employees in the private sector face an even greater likelihood of retaliation for trying to do the right thing. Few laws exist to protect private sector whistleblowers. (See filing a discrimination claim http://www.workplacefairness.org/whistleblower-claim for newly-updated information on state laws which protect whistleblowers.) This is not the way our country should be run. In fact, protecting employees who step up with real concerns can save Americans time, money, and more in the long run.
Workplace Fairness supports the work of the National Whistleblower Center toward establishing a National Whistleblower Appreciation Day and has recently updated the following pages: Corporate Whistleblowers, Federal Whistleblowers, and Filing a Whistleblower or Retaliation Claim, to provide whistleblowers with the latest legal information about their rights. You can help by inviting your member of Congress to support whistleblowers here. If you would like to learn more about National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, please visit the National Whistleblower Day website.
By creating a National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, America can take a step forward by acknowledging whistleblowers as positive contributors to society, rather than pariahs who risk losing their careers and even their lives without adequate legal recourse.
About the Author: The author’s name is Sydney Robinson. Sydney Robinson is an intern for Workplace Fairness. She is a law student at The George Washington University Law School.