Whistleblower Protection For Public Employees

Under Iowa law, state and local government employees have protection from retaliation for “whistleblowing” in certain circumstances.  Under Iowa Code 70A.28 and 70A.29, public employees cannot be fired or otherwise have their employment tangibly affected for making a report or disclosing information to a member or employee of the general assembly or from disclosing information or any other public official or law enforcement agency.

Note the limited group of people to whom a public employee may blow the whistle.  Public employees have no whisteblower protection under these statutes if they make a report or disclosure to someone besides other public employees.  So your classic case of whistleblowing, i.e., “going to the media,” is not covered under these statutes and public employees have no protection from retaliation for media disclosures, at least under these specific laws.

Iowa Code 70A.28 and 70A.29 also limit, in a very broad way, the scope of topics that are eligible for whistleblower protection.   The public employee’s report or disclosure to another public official must concern a violation of law or rule, mismanagement, a gross abuse of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.  Certainly most common whistleblower reports will fall within one of those categories, but it is possible that a report or disclosure to a public official will not receive whistleblower protection because the information disclosed is not important enough.

Additionally, public employees making a report or disclosure to another public employee must “reasonably believe” that the information indicates a violation of law or rule, mismanagement, a gross abuse of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.  In another words, the public employee better have some factual basis, and more than just suspicion or speculation, that something nefarious is occurring or the employee will not have whistleblower protection.

Public employees whose whistleblower right s are violated under these statutes can recover various types of relief as the court deems fit, including and especially lost wages, attorney fees, and lawsuit expenses.  In some instances, an injunction against the public employer may also be sought, such as to prevent the employer from firing the public employee.
Please feel free to contact me if you have an employment law question about public employees’ whistleblower rights.
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