Washington, DC — State employees in New England who report violations of law, fraud or threats to public safety may not be legally protected depending on which state employs them, according to a detailed analysis of state laws released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Massachusetts has one of the stronger laws in the country supporting civil servants who blow the whistle while Connecticut has among the weakest and Vermont has no law at all.
“Whistleblower laws are an important measure of how transparent state governments are to their citizens,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett. “Government corruption remains alive and well in New England and strong whistleblower laws can be a key cleansing influence.”
PEER ranked each law on 32 factors affecting the scope of coverage, usefulness and strength of remedies. By these measures, California and the District of Columbia have the most complete laws. Alabama, Georgia and South Dakota have the weakest laws while Virginia, New Mexico and Vermont have no whistleblower laws at all.
Among the six New England states, Massachusetts ranked 3rd nationally, followed by Rhode Island ranked 17th, New Hampshire 26th, Maine 28th, Connecticut 45th and Vermont 51st. Notwithstanding this range, the states shared several key gaps in legal coverage:
- Waste and Mismanagement. None of the New England states protect employees when they report waste of tax dollars or mismanagement of programs. Only Massachusetts has remedies for reports of fraud against the state (New Hampshire limits protection to reports of Medicaid fraud);
- Public Safety and Science. None of the states shield scientists citing data manipulation or findings altered for non-scientific reasons. Only Maine and Massachusetts protect employees who reveal threats to public health or safety; and
- Weak Enforcement. Even where employee disclosures are legally sanctioned, none of the states require that the underlying wrongdoing is investigated or corrected. In addition, none provide that managers found to have illegally retaliated against whistleblowers be punished. Nor do any of the states ban the blackballing of whistleblowers from future job openings.
The importance of state whistleblower laws has been magnified by recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (Ceballos v. Garcetti) stripping government employees of all First Amendment protection when speaking within the scope of their duties. In addition, over the past few years, the Supreme Court has also denied state workers coverage under federal whistleblower laws. Consequently, state statutes are increasingly the only defense for government workers in state agencies who face reprisal for reporting wrongdoing.
“If New Englanders want to reduce government waste and mismanagement, they should support laws that protect the public messengers from being proverbially shot,” Bennett concluded.
View detailed state-by-state whistleblower scorecards for: