We have experience with most of the whistleblower laws and regulations enacted at the federal level. Although there may be substantial rewards available through such laws, we know that most whistleblowers are not primarily motivated by financial recovery for themselves. On the contrary, most whistleblowers are simply motivated to do the right thing and often they have already attempted to escalate the issue internally at their company. Often, the company or entity about which a whistleblower has information has already refused to self-correct and the whistleblower is then left trying to figure out how to bring the issue to light. Where this can go wrong lies in what the whistleblower does next.
Some whistleblowers will begin to agitate within the company but outside of the normal reporting lines. Some will speak to reporters or news media. Some will go on social media and begin publishing information about what they believe they know or have uncovered. And some may attempt to speak to a government agency. Any of these steps may lead to firing by their employer, harassment from colleagues, or worse.
Before taking any of the foregoing steps, a whistleblower should consult with a knowledgeable attorney. They need to both protect their livelihood and select the avenue best suited to achieving the desired result in the long run. There are many articles that discuss whistleblower "protections" available through various laws. We tell our clients that the word "protection" is illusory. It simply means that the employer may face legal liability for firing a whistleblower--but only after an often long, expensive, and stressful lawsuit brought by an employee who has been fired in violation of those laws. And, of course, although it may be illegal to harass, assault, or injure someone regardless of whether it also violates a whistleblower law, we are aware of situations where this has happened to whistleblowers and the law is no protection to them at the moment these acts take place. Speaking to a lawyer can assist with preserving anonymity as well as addressing the underlying wrongful conduct that the whistleblower wants to correct.
We also believe that whistleblowers serve a valuable social service by exposing illegal conduct that would otherwise go unaddressed. And this concept underlies many of the whistleblowing reward laws that have been enacted in the United States. Whistleblowers often run great risks to their careers, their reputations, and at times their personal safety in coming forward. The risks they run should be offset somehow, and the whistleblower rewards help further that goal.
In addition to the False Claims Act, which permits awards of 15-30% of monetary recoveries related to federal government contractor fraud (there are similar laws at the state level), recoveries are also available to whistleblowers through the Internal Revenue Service in connection with tax fraud (15-30%), the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with securities fraud (10-30%), and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in connection with fraud involving commodities (10-30%). Our attorneys have assisted whistleblowers and qui tam relators in all of these areas.