Trends in State Whistleblowing Laws Following the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012

AuthorPatrick C. Exmeyer,So Hee Jeon
Date01 June 2022
Published date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2022, Vol. 42(2) 287 –311
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20978449
Trends in State
Whistleblowing Laws
Following the Whistleblower
Protection Enhancement
Act of 2012
Patrick C. Exmeyer1
and So Hee Jeon2
Recognizing the importance of whistleblower protection, government has
equipped itself with legal tools to protect whistleblowers. At the federal level, the
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012 represents the most
recent legislative action protecting whistleblowers. Currently, all 50 states have their
own whistleblower protection laws. However, given the variations among states
in statutory protections for whistleblowers, a need exists to examine important
changes to state whistleblower laws in light of larger legislative trends at the federal
level. This study addresses this research gap by exploring how state whistleblower
protection laws have changed following passage of the 2012 WPEA through the
lens of institutional theory. Content analysis findings suggest that post-WPEA state
whistleblower laws have adopted changes directly reflecting WPEA provisions.
The findings further suggest that post-WPEA state whistleblower laws also contain
changes which display loose connection to primary components of the WPEA.
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, state whistleblower laws,
institutional theory, content analysis
1University of Louisiana Monroe, Monroe, Louisiana, USA
2Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, USA
Corresponding Author:
Patrick C. Exmeyer, University of Louisiana Monroe, 109A Strauss Hall, 700 University Avenue, Monroe,
LA 71209, USA.
978449ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20978449Review of Public Personnel AdministrationExmeyer and Jeon
288 Review of Public Personnel Administration 42(2)
Transparency and accountability have long been regarded as pillars of ethical gover-
nance in the United States. While various mechanisms exist to promote governmental
transparency and accountability, such as Sunshine laws and the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA), few parallel the scope and ferocity of the act of whistle-
blowing. Defined as a means of disclosing illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices
to foster corrective action (Near & Miceli, 1985, p. 4), whistleblowing provides an
indispensable tool for facilitating governmental transparency and accountability
through the revealing of wrongdoing. Publicized cases concerning retaliation against
employees voicing policy concerns in the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the
possible abuse of authority and political interference in the Internal Revenue Service
concerning audits of elected officials, underscore the considerable impact and public
attention such disclosures can elicit (Exmeyer, 2018; Stein et al., 2019). Similarly,
whistleblowing cases at the state level can result in notable changes to existing whis-
tleblower laws, evidenced by Maryland’s Public School Employee Whistleblower
Act of 2017 following the disclosure of academic fraud in the Montgomery Country
Public School System (St. George, 2020).
Legal protections afforded to whistleblowers may contribute toward encouraging
employees to disclose observed organizational wrongdoing. Statutory protections for
federal employees engaging in whistleblowing began in earnest in the Civil Service
Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978, which established both the U.S. Office of Special
Counsel (OSC) and Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) as channels for handling
disclosures of wrongdoing. Subsequent expansions of whistleblower protections,
including the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) of 1989 and Notification and
Federal Employment Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act (NoFEAR) of 2002,
broadened considerably following the passage of the Whistleblower Protection
Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012 (Peffer et al., 2015).
While laws such as the WPA and WPEA provide protections to federal employees
and guide the organizational behavior of federal agencies, state governments have also
made efforts to protect whistleblowers. However, unlike federal laws providing uni-
form protections for federal employees, statutory protections for state and municipal
whistleblowers vary considerably. While all 50 states have their own statutes to protect
whistleblowers, Callahan and Dworkin (2000) suggest the greatest discrepancies in
whistleblower statutes across states include “the type of whistleblower protected, the
appropriate recipient of the report of wrongdoing, the subject of protected whistle-
blowing, the motive of the whistleblower, the quality of evidence of wrongdoing
required, and the remedies provided to the employee suffering retaliation” (pp. 107–
108). These discrepancies are compounded by states implementing statutory language
that may narrowly tailor protections to employees within specific sectors of public
employment such as health care, education, transportation, and law enforcement. The
dissonant nature of statutory protections for whistleblowers across states creates a void
of critical analysis examining changes to state whistleblower laws following federal
whistleblower legislation.

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