What is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower reveals illegal or dangerous activity inside a company or organization. This individual can use different ways to communicate this information, such as through internal or external channels. Most whistleblowers report the improper activity they know of to someone they know inside the company.
This can be a supervisor, human resources, compliance, or another neutral party. Once the individual has voiced their concerns regarding the illegal or dangerous activity that is taking place, then that individual can potentially become a whistleblower.
The common intent of the individual in reporting illegal or dangerous activity is that the company will address and correct the issue. If the company does not correct or address the issue, the individual will tell others outside the company.
Whistleblowers can communicate with external entities such as the media, government, or law enforcement. Whistleblowing can happen in either the private or public sector.
Whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, called “qui tam” cases, are lawsuits against companies with specific claims of fraud and misconduct by the company causing the government to lose money.
As noted, the whistleblower is usually a current or former employee but could be anyone who knows about fraud or misconduct.
In spite of the type of wrongdoing you want to report, you must first consult with a lawyer to protect your rights. Further, any whistleblower must consider the risks and rewards for your particular situation before you decide what steps to take next.
If you are a whistleblower or defending an accusation from a whistleblower, it is critical to speak to an experienced federal criminal attorney as soon as possible.
What Types of Federal Whistleblower Laws Exist?
The United States False Claims Act was the first U.S. law to protect whistleblowers. The False Claims Act was passed in 1863 and was initially meant to combat fraud involving suppliers of the American Civil War.
The False Claims Act encourages people to speak up about fraud by promising them a percentage of the money recovered and by protecting them from employment retaliation.
The False Claims Act requires whistleblowers to use attorneys to file qui tam lawsuits. Specific procedures must be followed so that the case is filed “under seal” and its existence is not revealed to anyone except the government.
Without a lawyer, whistleblowers could file claims with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Still, they are more likely to investigate a whistleblower's claim when working through a whistleblower lawyer to build a strong case before submitting a claim.
The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal government employees who report any illegal activity, misuse of funds, or danger to the public.
The Act prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers, such as demotions, pay cuts, or dismissals. The Act also allows whistleblowers to make their disclosures confidentially.
Section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) in the United States encourages whistleblowers to come forward with information about federal securities law violations.
If the whistleblower's information leads to sanctions of at least $1M, they are rewarded with money by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Additionally, Dodd-Frank ensures whistleblowers are safe from being fired or discriminated against for whistleblowing.
These are just some of the significant federal whistleblowing laws. The facts and circumstances of your case are essential to determine which of these laws apply. If you have legal questions about a whistleblower action, you must speak to an experienced attorney.
What is the Qui Tam Provision of Federal Whistleblower Law?
Federal whistleblower complaints can be filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act imposes penalties on people and companies who cheat the United States government.
The qui tam provisions permit private citizens to file claims on behalf of the United States government as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are incentivized to come forward with allegations by allowing them to share in any money that is recovered if the allegations are proven correct.
A whistleblower must have specific knowledge and a solid understanding of the violations to file a whistleblower case. Tangible evidence helps launch a whistleblower case but is not required.
A case could be built in certain instances if the whistleblower has detailed information about the violations. If the alleged illegal or harmful practices occurred many years ago and are no longer occurring, there could be issues with the statute of limitations. Each government whistleblower program has specific requirements.
Who Protects Whistleblowers from Retaliation?
If someone makes a whistleblower claim and alleges that they have suffered retaliation or reprisal from their employer, then that claim will be investigated by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
The OSC is an independent federal agency investigating and prosecuting alleged Whistleblower Protection Act violations. This can include being fired, demoted, or made to work in more challenging conditions after claiming a whistleblower.
What Are Some Common Types of Whistleblower Cases?
Some of the most common whistleblower cases involve employees reporting illegal conduct, such as:
- embezzlement, and
Another common type of whistleblower case is when employees report racial discrimination in the workplace. This includes being treated differently because of someone's race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin, or immigrant status.
Other types of whistleblower actions include sexual harassment or fraud. Sexual harassment occurs when someone makes unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks to someone else.
Fraud occurs when someone deceives another person to get money or other benefits. There are severe consequences for people who commit fraud against the government.
Fraud can happen in any field but is especially common in healthcare. A common type of healthcare fraud is price-fixing, when companies agree not to lower prices. Health care providers might receive a subpoena from the Office of Inspector General.
Another example of healthcare fraud is over-billing or billing for medical services that were not performed. Fraud can also include hiding safety concerns or violations and lying about qualifications or certifications.
It's important to note that every whistleblower case is unique and effective defenses will always depend on each case's specific facts and circumstances. Our federal criminal lawyers represent clients nationwide for all federal issues, including whistleblowers.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a nationally recognized criminal defense law firm in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us for an initial case review by phone or use the contact form.