Are you considering “blowing the whistle” on misconduct that you have observed? Your best source of information regarding whistleblowing, including whether you can be a whistleblower and how best to protect yourself under relevant whistleblower law is to consult with an attorney experienced in representing whistleblower clients. The following generalized questions and answers, however, will give you some basic information to consider in the meantime:
- What is a whistleblower? Very simply, a whistleblower is a person who reports fraudulent, unethical, or illegal activity to an agency or government to stop it from happening. The agency or government that receives the report will likely investigate the whistleblower’s report and take any action necessary to stop the misconduct and seek appropriate remedies from the person or business committing the misconduct.
- What is whistleblower law? Whistleblower law is a network of federal and state laws that apply to people reporting misconduct that they observe. These laws lay out guidelines for reporting, penalties for violating the law, and, most perhaps importantly for you, typically include protections for whistleblowers. Some laws, such as the False Claims Act, a federal law applying to reports of fraud against the government, also provide a monetary incentive to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and report misconduct.
- Can I be a whistleblower? This is dependent on the facts of your case and your personal situation. You can be a whistleblower whether or not you were ever an employee of the person or business whose conduct you have observed. Generally, you can be a whistleblower whether or not you are a United States citizen. Note, you can be a whistleblower even if you yourself engaged in or were complicit in the misconduct, though it is important to note that you may not be fully protected from the consequences of your role in the misconduct. Finally, you do not need “hard” evidence, such as documentation of the misconduct to be a whistleblower. You do need, however, enough information to establish the type of misconduct you are alleging.
- Can I get paid to be a whistleblower? Sometimes. Depending on the law applicable to your whistleblowing claim, you may be able to get monetary compensation for making a report. Most often, compensation for whistleblowing claims is associated with Qui Tam lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act provides a specific provision allowing people to sue a person committing fraud against the government on the government’s behalf and recover a portion of the damages. Recovering money damages under the False Claims Act requires you to file a lawsuit and win.
- If I blow the whistle, could I lose my job? In short, yes. However, many state and federal whistleblower laws forbid employers to do so without exposing themselves to potentially high penalties. In other words, your employer may fire you or may engage in other workplace retaliation such as a demotion or change in job duties, but you may be able to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination or retaliation. Some laws allow you to recover punitive damages for wrongful termination regarding whistleblowing.
These questions and answers just scratch the surface of what it means to be a whistleblower and how you can file a whistleblowing report. Consult with a competent and experienced whistleblower attorney, like a whistleblower lawyer in Richlands, Virginia, to learn more.
Thank you to the experts at the Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt for their insight into whistleblower law.