President Trump has signed into law (P.L. 115-73) a bill that passed Congress recently requiring disciplinary action against those who retaliate against whistleblowers.

It requires at least a three-day suspension and up to firing for a first finding of retaliation, and firing for a second. That would apply to findings made not only through appeals processes–including the MSPB, federal court, an administrative judge or through a negotiated grievance/arbitration process–but also to findings made by the agency head or IG.

The law could set a precedent for requiring discipline for other violations of the “prohibited personnel practices,” of which whistleblower retaliation is one. The Republican side of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently urged more consistency in discipline across agencies, recommending for example that OPM set standards for “tables of penalties” to be used government-wide for various types of misconduct.

Mandatory discipline is fairly rare but not unheard of in federal personnel policies. A law enacted last year required similar discipline of those who retaliate against whistleblowers at the VA, and since 1998 the IRS has had a “10 deadly sins” policy which requires firing for offenses involving employees’ personal tax compliance or misuse of authority. The NTEU union long has argued that those provisions create fear and confusion in the workplace and leave employees vulnerable to frivolous charges.

The Bush administration proposed to allow a broader range of penalties at the IRS but Congress never acted on that request. On the other hand, a 2013 law ended a prior policy mandating firing for Hatch Act violations, allowing agencies to impose penalties as light as a reprimand.