Many employees who witness unethical or illegal conduct at their jobs, including harassment, fraud, and other similar types of misconduct, do not report it. In many cases, they fear that coming forward to report their employers’ illegal actions might not be worth the consequences they might face and choose to look the other way.
The Ethics Resource Center conducted the National Business Ethics Survey and found that 45% of workers in the U.S. reported they had witnessed workplace misconduct. However, only 65% of those who witnessed unethical or illegal behavior in the workplace reported it. Like other workers, you might wonder whether reporting workplace misconduct you have witnessed is worth it or if you should instead ignore it to try to protect yourself. Here is some information about whistleblowing that you should know from the employment attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
How Common Is Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing occurs much more frequently than most people realize. While there are famous whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, most whistleblowers are not involved in reporting governmental misconduct to the public. Instead, they generally report their employers to the government when their employers engage in fraud, including making reports to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Whistleblowers also can file whistleblower lawsuits anonymously, so their employers might not know who reported them. However, if an employer discovers the identity of a whistleblower, the person who blew the whistle might face severe consequences to their career. Because of this problem, there are whistleblower laws that prohibit retaliation against people who blow the whistle, but employers still engage in retaliatory actions.
Why Employers Engage in Corruption
Most employers that engage in misconduct and corruption do so for financial reasons. Understanding the reasons that have motivated the employer to engage in illegal behavior can help whistleblowers understand which laws might protect them. Workplace misconduct and fraud that whistleblowers uncover frequently are motivated by money. Instead of breaking the law and violating safety or workplace conditions because of evil reasons, most employers that are corrupt engage in unethical behavior to try to increase profits, save money, or show high investment return rates.
Many whistleblower laws allow employees to report their employer’s illegal conduct confidentially. The government will then investigate the report. If it determines the complaint is valid, the employer will be sanctioned and forced to pay fines and penalties. The whistleblower will be eligible to receive a financial reward that will be a percentage of the total amount the government collects based on the information reported by the employee.
Whistleblower laws were enacted to encourage employees to report illegal conduct because the government could not possibly discover all of the fraud that might be committed against it without reports from insiders. Employees who uncover non-public information about their employer’s illegal conduct can confidentially report it to the authorities. The government will then investigate and use the provided information to build a case against the employer. If the employer is found guilty, it will be forced to pay penalties. A part of the payment will be given to the whistleblower as a reward for coming forward. Most whistleblower laws allow whistleblowers to recover rewards ranging from 10% to 30% of the penalties the government recovers.
Blowing the Whistle Safely
In the past, many industries were not covered by whistleblower laws. For example, airline safety, securities fraud, and food safety did not fall under any whistleblower laws. However, the loopholes in the state and federal whistleblower laws have largely been closed. Today, most whistleblowers in the U.S. are protected under a variety of state and federal laws regardless of the industry in which they work.
Modern whistleblower laws also recognize that whistleblowers come forward with information at a great potential cost. Because of this, most of these laws allow whistleblowers to file claims anonymously or confidentially. The government understands that many employees who witness workplace misconduct or fraud are afraid to report what they know because of potential retaliation in both their personal lives and their careers. Because of this, most whistleblower laws include incentives to encourage employees who have demonstrable evidence of illegal schemes to report their employer’s crimes to state or federal agencies and law enforcement authorities.
The safest way for you to blow the whistle while also avoiding potential retaliation is to follow the procedure authorized by the Dodd-Frank Act. Work with an experienced whistleblower attorney and provide the lawyer with the information you have uncovered. You will have to swear to the truthfulness of the information you provide. Your attorney will retain a copy of your declaration and file the claim on your behalf without disclosing your identity.
Protect Your Rights
To protect your rights, you must understand the proper way to report your employer’s illegal conduct. You will need to understand how to make your report in a way that protects your identity, your safety, and your job. Making sure that you follow the correct procedure for blowing the whistle can help to protect you against retaliation and qualify to maintain your confidentiality. It also can help you qualify to receive a financial reward. You will need to know both how to file your report and the office to which your report should be made. Working with an experienced whistleblower attorney can help to protect your rights. Contact Swartz Swidler today to schedule a free consultation by calling 856-685-7420.