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OCS improves response to federal workers' retaliation complaints

In the past, federal employees in Florida could expect the Office of Special Counsel to side with federal agency supervisors when workers filed complaints about mistreatment or blew the whistle about misconduct. Starting in 2017, however, the agency reformed its attitude toward employee complaints. It issued a record-setting 323 rulings in favor of employees. This represented a 16 percent increase in employees winning cases over the previous year.

Roughly 75 percent of these cases involved whistleblower retaliation cases. An employee advocate attributed the improved outcomes to the passage of the Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act in 2017. This new law made it easier for disciplinary actions to be taken against supervisors in whistleblower retaliation cases. According to OSC records, the Department of Veterans Affairs produced the most complaints about violations of personnel rules or retaliation.

Despite the progress, only 9 percent of the total number of employee complaints produced positive outcomes for the employee. Negative outcomes for employees have defined the 40-year history of the OSC. The legal director for a whistleblower advocacy group had previously warned workers not to send complaints to the agency. He described such an action as a death sentence for a person's career, but he said the agency's leadership appeared committed to making substantial improvements.

When management retaliates against an employee for taking legal actions, like complaining about misconduct or filing a workers' compensation claim, legal violations could occur. A person who suspects that pursuing benefits for a work injury resulted in a demotion, dismissal or reduction in hours could seek legal assistance. An attorney could document the mistreatment suffered by the worker and confront the employer. Evidence of illegal actions might persuade the employer to pay a settlement that covers lost pay.

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