Federal Whistleblower Laws

A list of all the whistleblower laws at the federal lever

A Summary of Federal Whistleblower Statutes

The United States has several whistleblower statutes that are designed to protect employees or individuals who have information that may be in the interest of public safety and health. The federal government encourages whistleblowers to report violations of the country’s laws, rules, or regulations in order to protect the general public. The country’s statutes cover various subject areas such as motor vehicle safety, environment conservation, nuclear safety, fraud, and food safety.

Table Of Contents

If you are looking for specific state whistleblower laws you can browse by state:


The following are federal whistleblower protections in the United States:

Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act is a federal law that regulates air emissions across the United States. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee with respect to the employee's terms of employment, compensation, and privileges in retaliation for:

  • Commencing or causing a commence of a proceeding under this act or a proceeding for the administration or enforcement of any directive required by this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to this act.
  • Assisting or participating in any manner in a proceeding related to this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the secretary of labor within 30 days of the retaliation.

42 U.S.C. § 7622(a).

Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act (CMVSA)

The CMSV regulates drivers of commercial motor vehicles by creating a national system of standards and testing. Under this act, it is against the law for an employer to discharge, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint or instituting a proceeding related to a violation of this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding concerning a violation of this act.
  • Refusing to operate a motor vehicle that violates the standards set by this act or one that is in an unsafe condition.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the secretary of labor within 180 days of the retaliatory action.

49 U.S.C. § 31105(a).

Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA)

The CERCLA, which is also known as Superfund, is an act that provides funds to facilitate the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. The act also has the mandate of seeking the parties responsible for the release of pollutants into the environment in order to assure their cooperation in the cleanup.

Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing information related to this act to a government authority.
  • Instituting or causing the institution of a proceeding related to this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to the enforcement of this act.

Filing

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days of the retaliation.

42 U.S.C. § 9610(a).

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

The NDAA is a federal law that specifies the annual budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing mismanagement of a federal contract or grant.
  • Disclosing an abuse of authority under this act.
  • Disclosing a violation of a rule, law, or regulation related to this act or federal contracts.
  • Disclosing a waste of federal funds.
  • Disclosing an existing danger to public health and safety.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Inspector General within 3 years of the retaliation.

10 U.S.C. § 2409(a).

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act)

The Dood-Frank Act was established to regulate lenders, banks, and other financial institutions to protect consumers and to prevent a recession. Section 748 of the Dodd-Frank Act amended the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) to make it illegal for employers to discharge or in any way discriminate against employees in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing information concerning a violation of the CEA to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
  • Participating in an investigation or administrative action held by the CFTC to investigate a violation of the CEA.

Filing

Whistleblowers who suffer discrimination or any other form of retaliation that violate provisions of the CEA may file a lawsuit in the appropriate district court.

The Dodd-Frank Act amended the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by adding Section 21F. This section states that it is against the law for an employer to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing information concerning a violation of the securities laws to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
  • Participating in an investigation or administrative action held by the SEC to investigate a violation of the securities laws.
  • Disclosing information that is required by the Securities Exchange Act or any other law that is under the jurisdiction of SEC.

Penalty

If an employer is found guilty of violating SEC laws, he or she may be ordered to:

  • Reinstate the complainant to a previous job position.
  • Pay two times the amount of back pay with interest.
  • Litigation costs.
  • Expert witness fees.
  • Reasonable expenses.

Section 1057 of the Dodd-Frank Act makes it illegal for employers who are involved in the business of providing consumer financial products or services and material service related to the provision of such products or services to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing or intending to disclose information concerning a violation of a law or regulation that is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection to the relevant authority, e.g., government entity or employer.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding concerning a law that is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau.
  • Instituting or causing the instituting of a proceeding related to federal consumer financial law.
  • Refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a law that is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau.

Filing

Complaints under Section 1057 of the Dodd-Frank Act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 180 days of the retaliatory action.

P.L. 111-203, § 748, 124 Stat. 1376, 1739 (2010).

Energy Reorganization Act (ERA)

The ERA was enacted to regulate the nuclear energy industry with the aim of increasing safety by setting nuclear safety standards. Under this act, it is illegal for employers to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing information concerning a violation of the ERA or the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) to the employer.
  • Refusing to participate in activities that would violate the ERA or AEA.
  • Testifying before congress or at any proceeding regarding ERA and AEA.
  • Commencing a proceeding that is related to ERA or AEA.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 180 days of the retaliatory action.

42 U.S.C. § 5851(b).

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

FLSA is a federal law that establishes minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, recordkeeping, and child labor standards for all workers in the entire United States. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this act.
  • Instituting a proceeding under this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to this act.
  • Serving or intending to serve on an industry committee.

Penalty

Employers who violate this act by retaliating against their employees may be liable to pay a fine not more than $10,000 and be imprisoned for up to 6 months.

29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3).

FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FDA Modernization Act)

The FDA Modernization Act was established to regulate the growing, harvesting, and processing of foods. The FDA makes illegal for entities involved in food production to discharge, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing, intending to disclose or participating in the disclosing of information concerning a violation of this act to the employer, the federal government, or the attorney general of a state.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to a violation of this act.
  • Participating or intending to participate in a proceeding related to this act.
  • Refusing to take part in an activity that would result in a violation of this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 180 days.

21 U.S.C. § 1012(a).

Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (FMSHA)

FMSHA was enacted to improve the health and safety standards in United States mines. Under this act, employers are not allowed to refuse to hire, discharge, or in any way discriminate against an individual in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this act.
  • The individual being a subject of medical evaluations and potential transfer.
  • Instituting or testifying in a proceeding under this act.
  • Exercising a right that is endorsed by this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 60 days of the retaliation.

30 U.S.C. § 815(c)(1).

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA)

The FWPCA was established to address water pollution in the United States. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for instituting a proceeding related to this act, filing a complaint or testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to the enforcement of this act.

Filing

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days.

33 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)

LHWCA is a federal law that protects those in maritime occupations by ensuring that they receive compensation, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation services if they become disabled as a result of job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States or in adjoining areas. Under this law, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for claiming or attempting to claim compensation from the employer, or testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to this act.

Penalties

Employers who violate this act may be liable to pay a fine ranging from $1000 to $5000.

33 U.S.C. § 948a.

Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSAWPA)

This act was established to protect migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by creating employment standards. These standards regulate wages, housing, transportation, disclosures, and recordkeeping. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against any migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this act.
  • Instituting or causing the institution of a proceeding related to the anti-retaliation provisions of this act.
  • Testifying in a proceeding under this act.
  • Exercising a right endorsed by this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 180 days of the retaliation.

29 U.S.C. § 1855(a).

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

OSHA ensures that workers across the United States are working in safe and healthy conditions. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this act.
  • Instituting or participating in the institution of a proceeding under this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to OSHA.
  • Exercising a right that is afforded by OSHA.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

29 U.S.C. § 660(c).

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

The SDWA was established to ensure that Americans have access to safe drinking water. Under this act, employers are not allowed to fire or discriminate in any way against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this act.
  • Instituting a proceeding under this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to the enforcement of this act.

Filing

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

42 U.S.C. § 300j-9(i)(1),(2).

Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX)

SOX was established with the aim of protecting investors by improving the reliability and accuracy of corporate disclosures. Under this act, publicly traded companies and nationally

recognized statistical rating organizations are not allowed to discharge, suspend, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing information concerning a violation of this act.
  • Testifying or participating in an investigation or proceeding related to a violation of this act or any SEC rule.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the secretary of labor within 180 days.

18 U.S.C. § 1514A(a).

Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA)

The SWDA was established to improve the methods used in disposing of solid waste. Under this act, employers are prohibited from discharging or in any way discriminating against their employees in retaliation for filing or instituting a proceeding under this act or testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding related to the enforcement of this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days of the retaliation.

42 U.S.C. § 6971(a).

Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA)

The SMCRA was established to regulate coal mines with the aim of reducing their environmental impacts and reclaiming abandoned coal mines. Under this act, it is unlawful for an employer to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing or instituting a proceeding under this act.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

30 U.S.C. § 1293(a).

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

The TSCA provides the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with regulatory powers to regulate the use of toxic substances. Under this act, employers are not allowed to discharge, alter terms of employment or discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

Commencing or intending to commence a proceeding under this act.

Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this act.

Participating in a proceeding related to the enforcement of this act.

Filing

Complaints under this act should be filed with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days of the retaliation.

15 U.S.C. § 2622(a).

Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)

The WPA was established to protect federal employees from unlawful discharge or reprisals. Under this law, employers are not allowed to discharge or take any personnel action against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing a violation of a law, rule, or regulation.
  • Disclosing information concerning gross mismanagement, waste of funds, or abuse of authority.
  • Disclosing the existence of substantial danger to public health and safety.
  • Exercising an appeal granted by law, rule, or regulation.
  • Lawfully assisting others in an appeal, complaint, or grievance right that is granted by law, rule, or regulation.
  • Refusing to carry out a directive that would result in a violation of a law, rule, or regulation.

Also, employees are only protected if the disclosure is not prohibited by law and not required to be kept secret by an Executive Order in the interest of national defense or foreign affairs. The statue does not apply to employees employed by the:

  • U.S. Postal Service or the Postal Rate Commission.
  • Government Accountability Office.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Central Intelligence Agency.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency.
  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
  • National Security Agency.

Filing

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is responsible for receiving complaints concerning prohibited personnel actions from employees. The special counsel also investigates the allegations brought forward by the employees.

Penalty

Employers who violate this statute by committing prohibited personnel practices may receive the following types of punishment:

  • Removal from job position.
  • Reduction in grade.
  • Debarment from federal employment for not more than 5 years.
  • Suspension or reprimand
  • A fine not exceeding $1000.
  • Payment of attorney fees for the complainant

P.L. 101-12, 103 Stat. 16; P.L. 103-424, 108 Stat. 4361

The False Claims Act

The False Claims Act protects whistleblowers who expose fraudulent activity that is done to defraud the federal government. Most of these fraudulent activities involve false payment claims related to Medicare, Medicaid, or other federal healthcare programs. The act also awards whistleblowers with a portion of the recovered money (usually between 10-30 %).

Penalties

Employers who are found guilty of unlawful retaliation against an employee may be ordered by a court to fulfill the following reliefs awarded to the complainant:

  • Pay 2 times the complainants' back wages plus interest.
  • Reinstatement to the previous job position.
  • Litigation costs
  • Plus any other compensatory damages the court deems appropriate.

Employers may also receive the following punishments:

  • Pay 3 times the amount of the false claim(s).
  • A fine ranging from $5,500 to $11,000 per claim.

Also, under what is known as a Qui Tam Lawsuit, employees can file a lawsuit on behalf of the government and receive between 15-20% of the total amount recovered from the offender if the government intervenes. If the complainant/whistleblower litigates by himself or herself, he or she may be awarded 25-30% of the recovered amount.

31 U.S.C. § 3729.

Penalties for Federal Whistleblower Laws

Unless stated otherwise by a statute or an act, employers found guilty of violating an act or statute may be ordered to:

  • Stop the violation.
  • Reinstate the complainant to a previous job position.
  • Pay back pay.
  • Reinstate the complainant's full fringe benefits and privileges.
  • Pay any other compensatory damages deemed appropriate by the court.