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More Employee Whistleblower Protections On The Way?

The U.S. Senate recently announced its approval of Senate Bill S795 by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for further consideration by the Senate. The bill calls for an expansion of whistleblower protections within the federal government.

Government employees are currently protected with whistleblower laws, but those employed by contractors, subcontractors, and grant recipients are not. This bill extends protections to those individuals.

The bill also prevents contractors from obtaining reimbursement of their legal fees when defending against a claim of retaliation from one of their employees.

According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Claire McCaskill, those employed by contractors and grant recipients are "doing the same work, working side-by-side by government employees, but they have not had the protections they deserve."

In addition to broader protections, the bill seeks to make permanent the existing whistleblower protections that will expire in two years. Charles S. Clark "Senate Advances Plan to Expand Whistleblower Protections Among Subcontractor Employees," www.govexec.com (Feb. 11, 2016).


Commentary

Although this bill has been approved by a committee and sent to the Senate for further consideration, this is just the first step in a long process.

A bill must advance through committee approval, chamber floor debate, and various amendments in both houses of Congress. Only when both houses agree on a single version of a bill is it sent to the President for approval. The process must be completed within one legislative year, or it will be dropped. If not passed in time, the bill must then be reintroduced and go through the legislative process again.

Typically, corresponding bills are introduced about the same time in both chambers of Congress, advancing through the legislative process simultaneously. Senate Bill S795, however, does not have an equivalent bill in the House, and there is no guarantee that this bill will ever become law, especially during an election year.

Even so, employers should keep in mind there are several existing laws and statutes protecting employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing. Protections include the False Claims Act, Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs, and the Affordable Care Act. The IRS also offers rewards to those employees who provide conclusive evidence of tax evasion.

Every employer must be prepared to address a whistleblower situation. Liability risk can be reduced with policies and procedures, an effective and safe mechanism for reporting, and a prompt and thorough investigation of all claims of wrongdoing.

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