Do Whistleblower Rights Apply to Independent Contractors?

Posted June 20th, 2024.

Categories: Blog.

whistleblower in dictionary

Whistleblowers play an important role by exposing wrongdoings and contributing to a more just society and healthier environment. A whistleblower is typically an employee who reports evidence of immoral, illegal, or hazardous practices within an organization or company. They are “blowing the whistle” on their employer and exposing their illicit activities. Because of the risk they take in exposing their company, they can sometimes face repercussions. Whistleblower rights are designed to protect individuals from retaliation. While they may not technically be the organization’s employee, independent contractors can benefit from whistleblower rights. Speak with an experienced Cherry Hill employment law attorney for representation and legal advice.

How Are Whistleblower Rights Protected?

Various laws and regulations aim to protect individuals who report illegal or unsafe practices from retaliation by their employers. Because whistleblowing can be seen as a betrayal and can cause an organization to lose money or face legal repercussions, employees may face backlash for making a report. Laws like the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) prevent employees from being fired, demoted, harassed, or discriminated against after reporting immoral behavior.

These laws can also include a confidentiality clause, protecting the whistleblower’s identity to prevent backlash and ensure their safety. If a whistleblower does face retaliation they are entitled to legal protections.

Are Independent Contractors Protected By Whistleblower Rights?

Yes, independent contractors are protected by whistleblower rights. Though not all contractors and subcontractors are federal employees the important role that they play is still recognized so they are afforded the same protections as federal employees. Many federal laws include protections for contractors and those rights have been upheld in numerous Supreme Court cases.

How Can a Contractor Report Illicit Behavior?

If you are a federal employee or a contractor and you believe you have information related to illegal, unethical, fraudulent, or abusive behavior there are specific steps you must follow.

First, ensure that the activity you are reporting is classified under protected disclosures. Only certain types of activities are protected by whistleblower rights. Ensure that you are reporting one of the following.

  • A violation of a law, rule, or regulation relating to a federal contract/grant
  • Gross mismanagement of a federal contract/grant
  • A gross waste of federal funds
  • An abuse of authority related to a federal contract/grant
  • A substantial danger to public health and/or safety

You must have some sort of information or evidence to back up your claims. The burden of proof in a whistleblowing case falls to the employee to prove that what they are disclosing is true. Document any and all evidence possible. Locate financial records, emails, and other relevant documents. Use photo or video evidence as well as audio recordings if possible.

There are certain authorized entities that a protected disclosure can be made to. Bring your claims and evidence to one of the following.

  • An Inspector General
  • A court or grand jury
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • An authorized law enforcement agent
  • A member of Congress
  • A federal employee who oversees or manages the contract/grant

Whistleblowing can be beneficial to society but dangerous for the employee or contractor. Ensure that you follow proper procedures and acquire help from an attorney when reporting illicit activities.

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