Lisa LaRue, a municipal construction code official in Edison Township, New Jersey, discovered wrongdoing in her workplace. Some residents and businesses were overbilled for plumbing inspections. Others were allowed to build structures without obtaining the proper permit. When LaRue reported this to her supervisors, she was harassed and denied raises and other benefits.

LaRue fought back. She filed a lawsuit against the township under New Jersey’s “whistleblower law.” Edison Township agreed to pay $157,000 to settle the suit.

In much of the world, LaRue would never have dared to report the wrongdoing. But the U.S. government and the governments of many states have passed whistleblower laws that protect employees who step forward and alert the public to illegal or improper government activity.

By informing law enforcement authorities and the public, whistleblowers help prevent:

  • Favoritism or corruption in awarding government contracts.
  • Cronyism in making personnel decisions in the office.
  • Mismanagement of official funds.
  • Personal indiscretions.

When employees can report problems without fear of retaliation, their managers can address those issues more effectively and run government “efficiently and according to ethical standards,” says Richard Moberly, dean of the University of Nebraska law school.

Most U.S. states and cities have whistleblower laws. Over 20 laws give special protection to federal employees in the food safety, aviation, securities and environmental protection fields.

In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order and legislation to protect employees who report improprieties at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Employees of the department had brought to light a coverup of exceedingly long wait times for military veterans to receive care. The executive order created an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within Veteran Affairs and imposed new standards of transparency.

“We have also some of the most honest employees,” President Trump said when he signed the executive order. “Some of them expose wrongdoing. We will make sure that they’re protected.”

A version of this article was previously published on May 22, 2015.