(Washington, D.C.) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is asking the federal government to end the systematic blacklisting of whistleblowers working within nuclear and environmental industries in settlement agreements. In a Rulemaking Petition filed yesterday, GAP has asked the Department of Labor (DOL), which hears complaints of retaliation from whistleblowers, to disapprove of settlement agreements that have employment ban clauses. To read the petition, visit GAP’s Web site at www.whistleblower.org
Employers accused of discriminating against whistleblowing employees that disclose nuclear and environmental hazards are increasingly including “employment ban” provisions in settlement agreements with those employees. Such employees are forever prohibited from seeking employment with that employer and, in some cases, other employers that operate at the same worksite. Examples of these blacklisting clauses are also available on GAP’s Web site.
Congress intended to protect and encourage whistleblowers by enacting legislation that protects employees who make disclosures including those involving environmental and nuclear safety issues that impact public and worker health and safety (For example, the Energy Reorganization Act, codified at 42 U.S. Code, section 5851). Congress has tasked the DOL with the job of hearing complaints of retaliation. GAP believes that the employment ban provisions circumvent Congress’ intent to protect and encourage whistleblowers – thus violating public policy.
In its petition, GAP cited the results of a study of settlement agreements over the past several years which show that nearly half of the agreements in whistleblower cases made available to GAP under the Freedom of Information Act contained future work prohibitions.
“Employers have found that they can effectively silence and rid themselves of employees who disclose violations simply by including these provisions in settlement agreements,” stated GAP Nuclear Oversight Director Tom Carpenter. “The policy functions to blacklist honest and ethical employees preventing them from ever working at a particular site.”
GAP discovered that many of the more egregious employment ban provisions were found in settlements at Department of Energy nuclear facilities, facilities which have been plagued by whistleblower allegations for years. The DOL is required to review all such agreements before they can be finalized and has approved each of the agreements.
The DOL’s Office of General Counsel will review the petition and can choose to implement all, some or none of the recommendations. A refusal by DOL to enact the petition can be challenged in court.