Government employees have special protections in the workplace that many workers in the private sector. This is true for federal employees, Texas state employees and workers of county and city governments. In addition to job protections available to private sector workers, government employees also have protections from other forms of discrimination, for whistleblowing, retaliation for political activity and affiliation and conduct that does not adversely affect your performance. If you are a government worker and believe your employer violated your rights, then you should talk to an employment lawyer in Texas right away.
Job protections for public employee whistleblowers
Government employees enjoy protections for whistleblowing beyond the few protections available to private sector workers. Federal and Texas law encourages public employees to hold their employers accountable by whistleblowing on unlawful or unethical actions. Without protections for workers who report violations, employees would have no incentive to put their job on the line by doing the right thing.
Whistleblowing occurs when an employee or contractor reports that their employer engaged in unlawful or unethical activities. Whistleblowing can occur from reporting internally within the employee’s agency or to an outside oversight agency. Public employees may blow the whistle on unlawful activities including:
- Regulatory violations
- Legal violations
- Violations of worker safety regulations
- Abuses of supervisory authority
- Substantial dangers to the public
- Waste or mismanagement of public resources
Retaliation against government whistleblowers
If you engage in protected activity by whistleblowing on unlawful activity, then your employer cannot retaliate against you. Your employer cannot take adverse action against your job or threaten to take adverse action. Even if your employer has other reasons to take adverse action, generally you are protected from retaliation if retaliation is any part of the employer’s decision-making.
Retaliation may take the form of an adverse action such as:
- Creating a hostile work environment to pressure you to quit or transfer to another position;
- Demoting you to a lower position or taking away job responsibilities;
- Denying you a promotion, transer, raise, or job duties;
- Wrongfully terminating you;
- Giving you a negative performance review unsupported by your job performance.
Federal employees have several options how they can report unlawful activity which may affect their employer’s ability to discover who blew the whistle. Speak with an employment lawyer near you before you report so your lawyer can advise you on the safest way to report and protect your job.
Whistleblower protections for federal employees
Federal employees enjoy protections as whistleblowers under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, in addition to other statutes. Federal workers can report unlawful activity to the Office of Special Counsel and the Inspector General under these statutes. (Specific types of whistleblowing may also be reported to other agencies.)
Often reporting to the Office of Special Counsel is a better option because reports to that office remain confidential. The Office of Special Counsel has the authority to order other federal agencies to investigate reports and disclose their findings to the office. The Inspector General typically investigates legal violations by federal agencies; however, reports to the IG are not confidential and there is no duty for your employer to participate in the Inspector General’s investigation.
Before reporting unlawful activity you should speak with an employment lawyer near you. Not only can your attorney advise you on ways to limit your risk of retaliation, but your specific concern may require reporting to a different agency or office.
Whistleblower protections for Texas public employees
Public employees of Texas state, county and city employers also receive protections for whistleblowing under the Texas Whistleblower Act. The Texas Whistleblower Act also applies to employees of state districts and authorities, including public school districts and special purpose districts. The Texas Whistleblower Act prohibits your public employer from retaliating against you for reporting illegal acts by your public employer or another public employee.
Under the Texas Whistleblower Act, an employee who suffers retaliation can seek remedies by suing the public employer. The employee may ask the court to issue an injunctive order prohibiting the retaliatory act. The employee can also recover monetary damages including lost wages, attorney’s fees, pain and suffering and future economic losses.
Importantly, the process for suing a public employer under the Texas Whistleblowing Act requires you to take specific action in a limited time. If you were not suspended or terminated for whistleblowing, then you must file your lawsuit within ninety days of the retaliatory act or your discovery of retaliation. If you were suspended or terminated then you must file a grievance or appeal under your employer’s workplace resolution procedure within ninety days. After grieving or appealing the decision you have a limited period of time to file your lawsuit after the agency issues its decision. Failing to take the right steps, in the right place, at the right time, can result in losing the right to pursue compensation and other remedies.
You should contact an employment lawyer near you to discuss your concerns before whistleblowing to limit your risk of retaliation. If you reported illegal activity and suffered retaliation, then you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer right away. You have very little time to act to protect yourself.
Retaliation against government employees
In addition to protections against retaliation for whistleblowing, government workers enjoy protections from retaliation for other workplace activities. If you believe your employer retaliated against you by terminating you or taking another adverse action against you, then you should talk to an employment lawyer near you right away. Your employment lawyer can investigate your situation and advise you what rights you have to pursue a claim against your employer.
Both federal and Texas public employees are protected from retaliation for participating in investigations of unlawful conduct by public employers and other public employees. For example, your employer cannot retaliate against you for participating in an OSHA investigation of a workplace safety violation. Your employer also cannot retaliate or threaten to retaliate against you for participating in an investigation of unlawful discrimination against another employee or applicant. If your employer retaliates against you for participating in an investigation, hearing, or lawsuit, involving an employment discrimination claim, then you may file your own charge under employment discrimination laws. You may file a charge with the EEOC or the Texas Workforce Commission and pursue your own retaliation claim. Your time period for filing a retaliation claim is extremely short, so if you believe you suffered retaliation for participating in a discrimination claim, then you should talk to an employment lawyer near you right away.
Federal employees are protected from retaliation for exercising their rights to file a grievance, complaint, or appeal under many statutes and regulations that govern their workplace. Many state and local employees in Texas enjoy similar protections.
Government employees also receive protection from retaliation similar to private sector employees for engaging in protected activity such as taking FMLA leave, serving on a jury, or reporting violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Process for federal employees to report retaliation
Federal employees have several avenues to report unlawful conduct, including prohibited personnel practices. It is important for employees to report unlawful conduct or complain about prohibited personnel practices to the correct agency or office within the required time.
Federal employees must file complaints of unlawful discrimination by their employer to the agency’s Equal Employment Office (EEO) within just forty-five days of the discriminatory act. Employees can pursue their claim through either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). There are good reasons to choose one over the other; however, once you elect a path you cannot change your mind.
The MSPB also oversees many other complaints by federal employees. The MSPB oversees claims of terminations, demotions, furloughs, suspensions and denials or reductions in retirement benefits. Federal law codifies prohibited personnel practices and the MSPB investigates complaints of those practices. The MSPB can overturn a personnel decision if the employer failed to follow necessary procedures or retaliated against you for exercising a legally protected right.
Before filing a complaint with any federal agency you should schedule a consultation with an employment lawyer near you to discuss your situation. Your employment lawyer can assess your case and advise you on the best way to protect yourself and pursue your claim.
Hire an employment lawyer near you for a government employee claim
The general rule is that governments and their agencies cannot be sued for wrongdoing. Laws permitting employees to pursue claims against federal and Texas public employers create small, brief windows for you to take action. Once you believe your public employer engaged in an unlawful employment practice against you, it is vital that you speak with an employment lawyer near you right away. The sooner you schedule a consultation the sooner your lawyer can start working on your case and ensure you do not miss any legal deadlines.