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Whistleblower Rights and Protections

Overview

Federal government employees perform an important service by reporting what they reasonably believe to be evidence of wrongdoing. Employees who come forward with such information should never be subjected to or threatened with retaliation or reprisal. Indeed, it is an agency employee’s obligation under executive branch standards of ethical conduct to report such wrongdoing. The OIG seeks to inform employees of the applicable federal laws prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers.

The OIG is the independent oversight authority for the Board and the CFPB. Our jurisdiction also extends to matters relating to the Federal Reserve Banks’ supervision of Board-regulated institutions because this Reserve Bank function is delegated from the Board. The following describes the federal whistleblower rights and protections applicable to Board and CFPB employees, as well as Federal Reserve Bank staff.

FAQs

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The Whistleblower Protection Act and the Inspector General Act provide CFPB employees with federal whistleblower rights and protections. In general, CFPB employees who reasonably believe a personnel action was taken against them because of their prior whistleblowing may submit a complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel or the OIG Hotline. Allegations of reprisal regarding equal employment opportunity matters generally should be addressed to the CFPB’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. The following provides further detail on these three methods of filing a complaint.

Reprisal Complaints Filed With the U.S. Office of Special Counsel

Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, CFPB officials are prohibited from taking, failing to take, or threatening to take or fail to take a personnel action because of a CFPB employee’s protected whistleblowing. If a CFPB employee believes he or she has been retaliated against for disclosing such wrongdoing, the employee may submit a complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is the independent federal agency that investigates and prosecutes complaints of whistleblower retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act. According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, to prove whistleblower retaliation, one must show the following:

  1. Protected whistleblowing. The employee must have disclosed what he or she reasonably believes to be:
    • a violation of law, rule, or regulation;
    • gross mismanagement;
    • gross waste of funds;
    • an abuse of authority; or
    • a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety;
  2. Knowledge of whistleblowing. The personnel action in question must have been taken (or not taken, such as in the case of a promotion), threatened, or influenced by an official who knew of the employee’s disclosure; and
  3. Contributing factor. The employee’s disclosure was a contributing factor in the personnel action.

Where these elements are met, and the agency cannot prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the action in the absence of whistleblowing, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel may seek corrective action (meaning an action that corrects what happened to the employee), disciplinary action (meaning an action that penalizes the federal official(s) who engaged in retaliation), or both. Frequently, parties engage in alternative dispute resolution and settle the issues with the help of a mediator.

For more information about the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s process for evaluating whistleblower retaliation claims, including protections of confidentiality, please see the U.S. Office of Special Counsel website.

Reprisal Complaints Filed With the Office of Inspector General

Under the Inspector General Act, CFPB officials are prohibited from taking or threatening to take a personnel action because an employee made a complaint or disclosed information to the OIG, unless the complaint was made or the information disclosed with the knowledge that it was false or with willful disregard for its truth or falsity.

In contrast to the broader remedies available with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, if an OIG investigation finds reasonable grounds to believe that reprisal has been taken or threatened against a CFPB employee, the OIG will report its findings and recommendations to CFPB management for appropriate action. The OIG is not authorized to seek corrective action on behalf of an employee. Where a complaint filed with the OIG overlaps with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s jurisdiction, however, the OIG will inform the CFPB employee of his or her right to file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and advise the employee of the broader remedies that may be available to him or her, such as corrective action, disciplinary action, or both.

Reprisal in Equal Employment Opportunity Matters

Allegations of reprisal regarding equal employment opportunity matters generally should be addressed to the CFPB’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

Office of Equal Employment Opportunity
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20552
 

Phone:
202-435-9EEO
855-233-0362
202-435-9742 (TTY)
 

E-mail: CFPB_EEO@cfpb.gov

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The Inspector General Act and 12 U.S.C. § 1831j(a)(2) provide Board employees with federal whistleblower rights and protections. In general, Board employees who reasonably believe a personnel action was taken against them because of their prior whistleblowing may submit a complaint to the OIG Hotline. Additionally, Board employees who have been discharged or otherwise discriminated against for certain whistleblowing may file a civil action in U.S. district court. Allegations of reprisal regarding equal employment opportunity matters generally should be addressed to the Board’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The following provides further detail on these three methods of filing a complaint.

Reprisal Complaints Filed With the Office of Inspector General 

Under the Inspector General Act, Board officials are prohibited from taking or threatening to take a personnel action because an employee made a complaint or disclosed information to the OIG, unless the complaint was made or the information was disclosed with the knowledge that it was false or with willful disregard for its truth or falsity.

If a retaliatory personnel action has been taken or threatened to be taken against a Board employee, the employee may submit a reprisal complaint to the OIG Hotline. If an OIG investigation finds reasonable grounds to believe that reprisal has been taken or threatened to be taken against an employee, the OIG will report its findings and recommendations to Board management for appropriate action.

Civil Action Remedy 

Separately, under 12 U.S.C. § 1831j(a)(2), the Board may not discharge or otherwise discriminate against any employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because he or she provided information to:

  • a federal banking agency (including the OIG),
  • a Federal Reserve Bank,
  • a Federal Home Loan Bank,
  • or the Attorney General

regarding a possible violation of law or regulation, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety committed by a director, officer, or employee of a depository institution, federal banking agency, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Home Loan Bank.

Any employee or former employee who believes that he or she has been discharged or discriminated against for providing such information may file a civil action in the appropriate United States district court before the close of the two-year period beginning on the date of such discharge or discrimination. The employee must also file a copy of the complaint initiating such action with the appropriate federal banking agency.

If the district court determines that a violation has occurred, it may order the Board to

  • reinstate the employee to his or her former position;
  • pay compensatory damages; or
  • take other appropriate actions to remedy any past discrimination.

Reprisal in Equal Employment Opportunity Matters

Allegations of reprisal regarding equal employment opportunity matters generally should be addressed through the Board’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Sheila Clark, Program Director
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Mail Stop 156
Washington, DC 20551

Phone: 202-452-2883

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Federal Reserve Bank employees who have been discharged or otherwise discriminated against for certain whistleblowing may file a civil action in U.S. district court. Additionally, some Federal Reserve Banks may have internal policies that prohibit whistleblower retaliation. The following provides further detail on these two methods of filing a complaint.

Civil Action Remedy 

Under 12 U.S.C. § 1831j(a)(2), a Federal Reserve Bank may not discharge or otherwise discriminate against any employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because he or she provided information to:

  • a federal banking agency (including the OIG),
  • a Federal Reserve Bank,
  • a Federal Home Loan Bank,
  • or the Attorney General

regarding a possible violation of law or regulation, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety committed by a director, officer, or employee of a depository institution, federal banking agency, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Home Loan Bank.

Any employee or former employee who believes that he or she has been discharged or discriminated against for providing such information may file a civil action in the appropriate United States district court before the close of the two-year period beginning on the date of such discharge or discrimination. The employee must also file a copy of the complaint initiating such action with the appropriate federal banking agency.

If the district court determines that a violation has occurred, it may order the Federal Reserve Bank to

  • reinstate the employee to his or her former position;
  • pay compensatory damages; or
  • take other appropriate actions to remedy any past discrimination.

Federal Reserve Bank Whistleblower Protection Policies

In addition to federal law, individual Federal Reserve Banks may have their own internal policies that prohibit whistleblower retaliation and authorize a full range of disciplinary action for violation of the policy, up to and including termination.