Who can be a whistleblower? What are whistleblowers and what does becoming one mean? These are common questions employees wonder when they discover that their company is doing something wrong. Whistleblowers speak up about fraud and corruption, and can help the government recover misspent or stolen funds.
Becoming a whistleblower is an important decision, and one that is never taken lightly. Telling the truth about corruption can help save money and even lives, but it may involve sharing information that can get supervisors, peers, and corporate interests into trouble.
A whistleblower is a person who has inside information that allows them to report on past or ongoing fraud and corruption. The information that they share must be unique, previously undisclosed, and valuable to an overall recovery in order to qualify them as a protected whistleblower.
You do not have to work at a company in order to blow the whistle on fraud. Sometimes, competitors may be able to report fraud, price-fixing, or bid-rigging due to their insider knowledge. Nor do you have to be an American citizen in order to qualify for protections and rewards under federal whistleblower laws.
Can a Whistleblower Remain Anonymous?
A whistleblower may be able to remain anonymous throughout the investigation and sometimes longer depending on the type of case if they make their disclosure to a qui tam lawyer or whistleblower law firm. In these cases, the law firm will act as a liaison in between the employee and the Department of Justice. An experienced qui tam lawyer will be able to help convince the Department of Justice to take on the case, and will be in good standing with existing investigators. For higher profile cases or widespread fraud, it may be especially important to work with a respected qui tam law firm in order to convince the government to investigate a powerful corporate entity.
Is it legal to identify a whistleblower? For employers, outing or harassing a whistleblower can be a form of retaliation that is prohibited by law. Whistleblower complaints under certain federal programs such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of the Whistleblower are protected even against Freedom of Information Act requests.
Are Whistleblowers Protected from Retaliation?
Is there a law protecting whistleblowers? There are several federal laws, including the False Claims Act and Dodd-Frank Act that allow whistleblowers to sue for damages in cases of retaliation. Additionally, several states offer whistleblower protections that mimic federal standards.
Making a whistleblower complaint under the SEC Whistleblower Program or the False Claims Act can qualify you for certain protections against retaliation. Prohibited actions include:
Firing a whistleblower
Suspending or demoting a whistleblower
Harassing or threatening a whistleblower
Reduction of hours, benefits, or pay
Under the False Claims Act, employers who fire or take other retaliatory actions against a whistleblower may be held liable for up to double back pay as well as reinstatement. Employees may also be able to receive front pay in cases where there is no chance of reinstatement, as well as repayment of legal fees.
Are Whistleblowers Entitled to a Reward?
In cases involving a successful recovery, a whistleblower may be entitled to up to 30% of the overall funds recouped. In some cases of financial fraud reported via the Dodd-Frank Act, awards for whistleblowers are mandatory, meaning that they must be made in cases where useful information is shared.
In general, rewards for whistleblowers range from 10-30% of the overall settlement, depending on both the utility of information reported and the extent of cooperation. Coming forward early as a whistleblower is a good way to both insulate yourself from potential liability, as well as demonstrate full cooperation in the investigation.
What are the Requirements to Become a Whistleblower?
Importantly, internal whistleblowers such as auditors or those who make a report only to their supervisor(s) are not protected by the False Claims Act. In order to receive protection as a whistleblower, as well as to become eligible to receive an award for your information, you must share your information with a government source such as the Department of Justice or SEC Office of the Whistleblower. A qualified qui tam lawyer can help you understand which is the appropriate entity for filing your whistleblower complaint, and how to file.
Under the "first to file" standard, information cannot have been previously reported by someone else in order to qualify for a reward. However, it may pertain to an already ongoing investigation as long as it will help substantively with a recovery of funds.
What Evidence Do I Need to File a Whistleblower Claim?
Corporate documents, emails, internal reviews, compliance manuals, and more are all potential types for evidence in a whistleblower complaint. Even medical records may be shared without violation of HIPAA in some cases, under the law enforcement exception in the statute.
However, in some states, recording conversations without all parties' consent is illegal. Sharing certain documents may also hinder an investigation more than help as a whistleblower. Consult with a whistleblower lawyer to ensure that the information you have collected or are going to collect will support your case without endangering your own interests.
Reasons to Become a Whistleblower
There are many reasons why becoming a whistleblower is the right thing to do, despite the possibility of professional or even personal risk. By speaking to a qui tam attorney and becoming a whistleblower you may be able to:
Protect taxpayer funds
Have the potential to collect a reward
Do the right thing by vulnerable populations
Prevent waste, harm, or abuse
Who Can Be a Whistleblower: FAQs
How do I become a whistleblower? The specifics of each case may vary.
1. Do I have to be a citizen to file a whistleblower lawsuit in the US?
No. Anyone can become a whistleblower, regardless of citizenship. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, whistleblowers who report on bribes or corruption given to foreign officials by US persons or companies may be able to collect between 10 to 30% of sanctions.
2. How long do you have to file a whistleblower complaint?
The length of time between the violation and whistleblower complaint varies depending on the government agency investigating. Under the False Claims Act, the statute of limitations is six years from the violation, or three years from when the government found out or should reasonably have found out about the fraud.
3. Do I need to quit my job to file a whistleblower complaint?
One common concern of how to become a whistleblower is whether or not you can remain an employee of the company that has committed fraud in order to file a whistleblower action. You do not have to leave your job in order to become a whistleblower. Many whistleblowers continue to work at the same company even after a complaint is filed. If you are retaliated against or fired, you may even be able to sue for reinstatement.
4. Can a whistleblower be a non-employee?
A whistleblower does not have to be an employee of the company committing fraud in order to report on it. Oftentimes, whistleblowers may be doing business with the company or competitors in the same field. Under the SEC Whistleblower program, the information may even be publicly available and brought to the SEC's attention solely through individual assessment.
5. What happens if a whistleblower is wrong?
It is important to consult with a qui tam lawyer so that your case can be fully vetted, and the strongest possible evidence presented. However, even in cases where the SEC Office of the Whistleblower or Department of Justice finds that there has been no fraud or wrongdoing, a whistleblower's identity remains protected.
6. Who is most likely to become a whistleblower?
Employees at any level are likely to become whistleblowers. The kinds of information you may be able to provide can vary based on position and insight into a company, but anyone can come forward to report wrongdoing.
7. Why is whistleblowing important?
Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, once said that “going after waste, fraud, and abuse without whistleblowers is about as useful as harvesting acres of corn with a pair of rusty old scissors." Whistleblowers are able to unlock layers of fraud and corruption hidden behind opaque corporate policies and strategic gate-keeping. They are also able to collect critical information and reveal wrongdoing that would otherwise go undisclosed.
8. Why are whistleblowers punished?
Unethical companies may try to quiet or punish whistleblowers in order to protect their own reputations or to continue to benefit from financial fraud. Whistleblowers may be punished in order to stop others from coming forward to do the right thing. For this reason, whistleblower rewards are especially important to continue to incentivize protected disclosures.
9. Can whistleblowers be fired?
If you have been fired after blowing the whistle on fraud, speak to a qui tam lawyer. If you have already reported the incident to the SEC or via another government entity, you may be able to sue for double back pay, as well as reinstatement, depending on what area of law governs your disclosure.
10. Are whistleblowers protected by law?
Several laws protect whistleblowers in the US. The False Claims Act, the SEC Whistleblower Program, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and more all protect whistleblowers. Many states also have passed their own version of the False Claims Act and other protections for whistleblowers or qui tam relators.