Best Practices for Whistle-blowing
If you intend to whistleblow about a violation of law, rule, regulation, or policy, or a matter of health and safety, there are several options:
- If it is a matter of safety and health you may notify OSHA at the Federal Level (Federal OSHA and the State OSHA are separate agencies). Call 1-800-321-6742. Keep in mind federal employees typically protected from retaliation not by OSHA, but by the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC)
- Depending on the nature of the safety and health concern (COVID outbreak, lack of PPE that may spread the virus) you may also advise the State OSHA that a case is confirmed at your Federal Agency and the exposure could affect state businesses due to community spread of the virus (COVID-19). Federal OSHA has jurisdiction at your agency, state OSHA has jurisdiction over local businesses that are affected: Example fitness centers, Train station etc....
- In health and safety related matters it may also be appropriate to call CDC and/or state Health Department and advise them of the confirmed case at your location. For more info visit www.afge.org/Coronavirus.
- Each agency has an Office of Inspector General, almost all have a link on the agency website that includes filing a complaint. You should do so from a non-governmental computer and provide a non-governmental email for security of communication. They will accept and process complaints pursuant to their internal discretion. The two major formal remedies for violations found by OIG’s are filing a report or making a criminal referral to DOJ.
- The US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) will take whistleblower disclsoures from employees of all federal agencies. Here is the link of the form to do so. You can ask to be kept anonymous by OSC, but you can’t be anonymous to them or the matter cannot be processed, they will want to speak with you. OSC will make a determination of a :substantial likelihood” of a violation and then direct the agency head and/or the agency OIG to further investigate and report back to OSC. If the report is lacking in the view of OSC, who will review it with the whistleblower, they can order the agency to further investigate. OSC has statutory authority to report to their findings and commentary on the agency response to the White House and Congress. For members, a local union officer, a national representative, or in some cases upon from a National Vice President or Council President, the AFGE General Counsel’s may provide representation through the OSC process. While any federal employee can go directly to OSC without a representative, AFGE staff can assist in making the most compelling disclosure, and assist in navigating the OSC process, which in some cases can be lengthy, and assist in reporting any agency retaliation to OSC. Reports of retaliation for whistleblowing are officially made through filing of this OSC form.
- AFGE has also created a Congressional Grievance form for your use. You may wish to use this to provide disclosures to Members of Congress. It is a far better practice to file with OSC first, as OSC may decline to investigate if they believe the matter is already under investigation.
Once OSC has taken the case, or if they decline to further investigate, you never lose the option to report to Congress, but remember like all of these entities, Congress may choose either not to take action or to simply make a generic request for information from the agency. In order to get the most involvement, it is helpful if multiple members with knowledge may make the same request, and it will help to have the local leadership, council leadership, your National Vice President, and as appropriate the Legislative Department and the General Counsel’s Office aware. No one can help if they don’t know what is going on, and much more assistance can be given prior to filing than later after it is done.
- Many believe the best place to get attention is to go to the media. Getting the appropriate issues to the appropriate news source can be very helpful, but it can also expose the whistleblower to violations of HIPPA, the Privacy Act, or potentially other internal agency regulations or procedures. It is very strongly suggested that prior to going to the media, that these matters be vetted with the AFGE Communications Department and General Counsel’s office to maximize the reach of the story with the greatest protection to the employee. Having reported the matter to OSC, OIG, or Congress prior to going to the media may give greater credibility to the story and may allow AFGE to protect employee anonymity.
- Do not assume other employees have already reported matters, even if they have, the investigations will be combined and that is actually helpful. The more employees that report the same concern, the more likely it will be properly investigated, and the less likely the agency can simply deny the issue and state they have had no other complaints. There is always strength in numbers.
- Trying to decide which forum to raise a whistleblower disclosure it not an exact science, but AFGE has been whistleblowing for many years and can give advice tailored to specific sets of facts. If multiple members from the same local wish to make filings we can do trainings specifically for each group, if requested through your Council or National Vice President.
- If you believe you have been retaliated against by your agency for whistleblowing, you may be able to raise this in a grievance or through a Prohibited Personnel Practice filing through OSC, but not both. This makes the choice of forum very important, you should consult your local or council leadership as to your grievance options and have them contact the AFGE General Counsel’s Office for advice as to filing with OSC. Please have the OSC form completed, but not yet filed, prior to requesting GCO assistance, which will streamline and focus the discussion.
- We strongly advise discussing your concerns with your local leadership and council leadership, as some matters may already be a subject of an investigation or grievance. Decisions of what to file, where to file, and when to file, are highly fact specific, a coordinated action as described above can maximize the impact of your filing, and provide the highest possible level of protection from retaliation.
If you have any questions, please contact [email protected].