A “whistleblower” is an employee who reports a violation of the law by their employer. The employee might report a violation against them, as with a sexual harassment claim, or might report a more general violation like tax/IRS fraud, healthcare fraud, procurement fraud, defense contractor fraud, or others.
The federal government and many states have laws protecting whistleblowers who’ve filed a claim or reported a violation from retaliation.
Even if you feel you are not ready to take legal action, consult one of our qualified lawyers as soon as possible so that you will know your options. At Heninger Garrison Davis, we do not charge any fees upfront. In fact, we will only charge attorney’s fees if we obtain a financial settlement for you. If you don’t win, we won’t get paid a legal fee.
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Frequently Asked Questions
A: The ability of a whistleblower to remain anonymous relies on the whistleblower provisions of the relevant law, but many of these provisions do allow the whistleblower to remain anonymous for a time. It is important to note, however, that you may not be able to retain your anonymity throughout the entire process, and that your employer may be able to figure out your identity through indirect means. This is why whistleblower laws often include employment protection for those who report wrongdoing.
A: Yes. The Federal Clean Air Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), Energy Reorganization Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Toxic Substance Control Act, and Water Pollution Control Act each contain protections for an employee who complains about safety or health hazards either in the workplace, or to the environment, caused by an employer.
In order to be protected under these acts, an employee must have a good-faith belief that the employer is violating the law, and must complain either to the employer or to a federal agency about the apparent violation. The employee is then protected even if the employer is ultimately found to be in compliance. An employee who feels that they have been retaliated against for making a complaint must bring a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within thirty days of the retaliatory action.
A: Employees are also protected in most states by general statutes or common law barring discrimination or retaliation against whistleblowers. As under federal law, in order to qualify for whistleblower protection in most states, an employee generally must have a good-faith belief that the employer or its employees are in some way violating the law. The employee must also either complain about that violation to the employer or to an outside agency, refuse to participate in the violation, or assist in an official investigation of the violation.
State laws can vary significantly, so it would be better to research the protections available to you in advance of taking actions that could result in retaliation by your employer. Be sure to review any employment contracts you’ve signed to determine whether an internal whistleblowing system exists and if you are contractually required to utilize it. You should also review your employee handbook for additional information on your employer’s policies relating to misconduct and whistleblowing.
It is crucial to be aware of any provisions relating to confidentiality. As a whistleblower, you are protected from retaliation by your employer, but you’ll want to feel confident that you qualify for protection and that your disclosures will not put you at risk of a lawsuit for disclosing the company’s confidential information.
A: Yes. As long as you had a good-faith belief that a violation occurred or could occur, your reporting of it is protected.
A: Examples of whistleblower retaliation may include:
- Termination of employment
- Threats or harassment
A: In order to establish that your employer unlawfully retaliated against you for whistleblower activity, four elements must be present:
- You performed a protected activity as described in OSHA’s whistleblower laws,
- Your employer knew you engaged in this activity,
- The employer took some action against you, and
- The activity you engaged in caused your employer to take this action.
A: OSHA does not represent employees who have been retaliated against. The job of its investigators is to gather and analyze the facts and make an impartial determination as to whether the employer retaliated against a whistleblower.
A: There are two different types of whistleblowing:
- Internal Whistleblowing – Internal whistleblowing is, as one might expect from its name, the act of reporting misconduct to someone else within the same organization.
- External Whistleblowing – External whistleblowing, on the other hand, is the reporting of misconduct to someone outside of the organization, such as to law enforcement and/or the media.
A: The False Claims Act, also known as the Lincoln Law, is a federal law that imposes liability on companies that defraud the government. It enables the government to sue contractors who try to fraudulently charge or otherwise cheat in dealings with the government. These cases are filed under seal, which means that the company is not alerted directly about the lawsuit.
This law contains a provision that allows whistleblowers unaffiliated with the government, known as “relators,” to file an action on behalf of the government and receive a portion (usually between 15 and 30 percent) of the recovered damages. The law also contains protections for whistleblowers, including employment protection and back pay recovery.
More than half of U.S. states have enacted their own false claim laws, patterned after the federal version. These laws vary in their applications and protections. Some are limited to combating Medicare fraud.
A: The Whistleblower Protection Act, enacted in 1989 and strengthened in 2012, specifically protects people who work for the federal government, and inform on illegal or improper activities conducted by the government. The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees from potential retaliation from the government.