Famous whistleblowers have been depicted in movies and are sometimes reported in the news. Because of these types of media, you likely have a general familiarity with what whistleblowers are. Whistleblowers are people who learn about illegal or unethical conduct within their companies or within the government and report what they know. Many whistleblowers are not famous. however, they perform an important function in holding the government and companies accountable for their wrongful actions. The employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler represent whistleblowers and help to protect them from retaliation.
What is a whistleblower?
Whistleblowers are people who have inside information about fraud, waste, corruption, abuse, or dangerous conditions and report what they know to agencies that can rectify the problems. Typically, whistleblowers are employed by the companies where the wrongful actions are happening. However, a whistleblower can be someone from outside of a company or organization as long as he or she discovers non-public information about the fraud or other illegal or unethical conduct that is occurring. The key factor for whistleblowers is that they know information that would otherwise not be discovered and disclose it. By contrast, if you know about illegal activity that has been reported in your local newspaper, you could not serve as a whistleblower by disclosing the publicly-reported information.
There are many different state and federal laws that provide rewards for whistleblowers. These laws also provide protections for whistleblowers against retaliation by their employers. Each of these laws has its own definition of what a whistleblower is, and whistleblowers must follow the procedures that are listed in the law that applies to them when they seek formal status as whistleblowers.
Making sure that you follow the procedures and rules under a specific local, state, or federal whistleblower statute is important. While you can still report information outside of these laws, doing so will not allow you to avail yourself of the protections or the financial rewards. This makes it important for you to talk to an experienced attorney at Swartz Swidler before you try to blow the whistle. We can offer guidance to you about how to proceed.
History of whistleblower laws in the U.S.
The whistleblower laws in the U.S. date back to the 1860s and Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln believed that people should be encouraged to report fraud against the government. In 1863, the False Claims Act was passed in response to the waste and fraud that happened during the Civil War. This law included qui tam provisions that provided incentives to citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government against companies and individuals who were defrauding the government. If the citizens were successful with their lawsuits, they would be given a percentage of the amount the government was able to recover as a result. While changes have been made to the False Claims Act, it is still in effect in the U.S. today.
Whistleblowers have been responsible for many major events. A whistleblower exposed the criminal activity that led to Watergate. Whistleblowers also exposed the extensive accounting fraud that led to the demise of WorldCom and Enron. Whistleblowers also brought the dangers of tobacco to light and have performed many other important services to the country.
Every year, thousands of people blow the whistle, reporting everything from pollution to tax fraud. These types of illegal activities can harm taxpayers, shareholders, and the government. Many of the actions that whistleblowers report would likely go undiscovered and undetected without their help. Because of the important role that whistleblowers have, there is bipartisan support for whistleblower laws.
What types of activities do whistleblowers report?
Whistleblowers report many different types of illegal activities. Most claims that are filed under the False Claims Act involve fraud related to government spending programs, government contractors, and Medicaid or Medicare billing. Many other types of whistleblower claims involve violations by companies of tax laws, securities laws, and environmental laws.
Protections for whistleblowers against retaliation
The whistleblower laws contain provisions to protect whistleblowers against retaliation from their employers. Under the FCA, people who report fraud against the government are protected against retaliation. Federal employees who blow the whistle and report governmental misconduct are protected against retaliation by the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Other whistleblower laws that protect people who blow the whistle against retaliation include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Internal Revenue Service also has whistleblower protection laws to encourage people to report tax fraud against the government.
Whistleblowers only need to have a good-faith belief that their employers have violated the law to be protected. Even if the investigation shows that the employers did not engage in wrongful conduct, the whistleblower will still be protected against workplace retaliation. This includes being protected against retaliation in all aspects of employment, including demotions, terminations, pay cuts, harassment, and others. When an employer retaliates against an employee for blowing the whistle, the whistleblower can file a retaliation claim to seek to recover damages, including back pay, income losses, job reinstatement, and other remedies.
Get help from an experienced qui tam attorney
Whistleblowers perform critical services to the public by helping to hold government agencies and companies accountable. However, filing a whistleblower complaint can be difficult. Many people may feel intimidated by the potential ramifications of blowing the whistle. However, the whistleblower laws include protections for whistleblowers that might help to protect you. If you have inside information about widespread fraud or unethical behavior at your company or at a government agency, you might want to consult with an experienced whistleblower lawyer at Swartz Swidler as soon as possible. We can analyze the facts and explain whether you might have a viable claim. We can also help you to identify the appropriate law under which your claim might fall and help you to file your complaint. If your employer has retaliated against you for whistleblowing, we can also help you with your retaliation claim. Contact us today to request a consultation by calling us at (856) 685-7420.