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Can You Rely on Federal Whistleblower Protection?

Many laws provide federal whistleblower protection for people who report illegal activity.

Federal Whistleblower ProtectionWhistleblowers assume a lot of risk by coming forward. Lives can change overnight. While attempting to right something legally wrong, the whistleblower faces the possibility of retaliation by those who would prefer that things stay the way they are. That’s where the concept of federal whistleblower protection comes into the picture.

Are there federal protections for whistleblowers? What kinds of protections exist? If someone takes action against a whistleblower, what are the repercussions? Here are some answers to those questions.

Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act

The False Claim Act (FCA) is one that impacts whistleblowing and provides some degree of protection for those who come forward. It can be tempting to focus on potential compensation for revealing and cooperating in investigations related to illegal activity, there’s another side to consider.

The FCA imposes penalties and possibly jail time for those who seek to interfere with an investigation into fraud. Attempting to compromise a whistleblower with the use of intimidation or other means could be interference. In this scenario, the authorities would bring charges against the party attempting the intimidation. The result is protecting the investigation’s integrity while also protecting the whistleblower from threats.

The Provisions Found in OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

One of the more comprehensive examples of whistleblower protection on a federal level lies within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Whistleblower protection programs. Some examples of the program provisions include:

  • Preventing an employer from firing an employee who has filed a complaint. The clauses within the programs relate to the original complaint as well as any complaints about threats related to the continued employment.
  • Transferring the employee to a position with less pay or otherwise taking actions to reduce the employee’s benefits. Sometimes used as a strategy to get the employee to resign, the protections from this type of activity help to ensure the whistleblower can continue to earn an equitable living.
  • In the case of hourly employees, reducing the number of assigned hours per pay period. Again, this provision helps to ensure the whistleblower does not find oneself in a difficult financial position because of coming forward.

All told, there are more than 22 different laws related to various industries that protect whistleblowers. From employees in mining operations to health care facilities to manufacturing plants, one or more of those laws are likely to apply.

Timely filing of complaints is essential with each of those laws. Within the terms and conditions found in each law, there is a specific number of days in which to file. Some laws or acts allow only 30 days to file a complaint. Others allow as long as 180 days. An attorney who is familiar with the laws that apply can advise the client of the number of days left before a filing becomes impossible.

The Protection Applies to Private as Well as Public Company Employees

In times past, there was some difference of opinion about whether whistleblowing protections applied only to employees of public companies. The US Supreme Court settled the question in 2014 in the case of Lawson v. FMR LLC. The ruling was that current whistleblowing laws apply to employees working for private contractors and subcontractors of public companies as well as personnel in the employ of those public companies.

Protections for Employees of Governmental Agencies

Whistleblower protections are not limited to people who work for companies or non-profit organizations. They also extend to government employees. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 includes these protections.

As with laws protecting other types of employees, the WPA prevents a whistleblower from demotion or termination because of the decision to report the alleged illegal activity. It is not legal to reduce the pay of that employee for the duration of the investigation or any subsequent legal action taken. The employer cannot replace the employee during this period. Illness is the only exception. Even then, the employee may resume his or her position after the illness passes.

The Relationship between Federal and State Whistleblowing Laws

Some states have passed laws related to whistleblowing and protections extended to whistleblowers. New York is a good example. When there are state laws that apply to a given situation, those laws must be in harmony with federal laws. Whistleblower attorneys are aware of any state laws that exist. They also know how those state laws relate to federal laws, and which ones do have some bearing on the rights of the whistleblower.

Do you have evidence of fraud or illegal activity within an organization? Contact the skilled federal whistleblower protection attorneys at the Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.

Understanding the Role of the Pharmaceutical Whistleblower

Whether within the company or outside the organization, the pharmaceutical whistleblower is a powerful legal resource.

pharmaceutical whistleblowerWhistleblowing is a term that describes people who become aware of activities within an organization or entity that are legally questionable. They don’t pretend they know nothing. Instead, the whistleblower chooses to reveal the activity. As in any industry, the actions of a pharmaceutical whistleblower have the potential to trigger changes for the better. Here are some basics that you should understand about whistleblowing and the possible outcomes.

Two Kinds of Whistleblowers

There are generally two distinct types of whistleblowing. Understanding how the two are similar and how they are different is important. It’s easier to see how the role of a whistleblower within the pharmaceutical industry aids in stopping the abuse.

  • Internal whistleblower: The whistleblower has a connection to the organization. This could be an employee, an officer, or a shareholder. The internal whistleblower shares the information with one or more people within the organization. Those people would be figures with authority to take action.
  • External whistleblower: External whistleblowers reveal the activity to someone outside the company. That entity may be a law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction. It could also be a governmental agency that has oversight of the organization in some manner. Furthermore, the whistleblower may choose to take the information straight to the media.

How does the whistleblower determine which approach to use? Is there a reason to believe someone within the company will handle the matter? Then the whistleblower won’t see any need to contact outside parties. There’s trust that everything they are in compliance with current laws. However, when there is little confidence that internal personnel will handle the situation, contacting an outside entity makes sense.

A Pharmaceutical Whistleblower Example

Whistleblowing is nothing new. In fact, we see more and more cases of whistleblowing each year. Within the pharmaceutical industry, whistleblowing often has to do with the development and release of new products.

Consider this example. An employee is working on a new product due for release in six months. He or she becomes aware that the company knows the product triggers a set of side effects. The company withheld that information from governmental agencies as well as from the public or the medical community. Given the circumstances, the whistleblower reports the side effects to a legal entity. He or she may even want to take the information to the public through the media.

Taking this type of action does involve risk on the part of the whistleblower. Attempts to discredit the individual are likely to take place. Furthermore, loss of employment or other issues may also arise. Hence, most people who chose to become a pharmaceutical whistleblower only do so after considering their options carefully.

Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act

The False Claims Act provides some amount of protection for whistleblowers. Employing the concept of qui tam, the whistleblower or relator has the right to some amount of compensation. This is in exchange for cooperating with an investigation into the claims. Finally, if the claims prove to be valid and the lawyers decide to take legal action, the level of compensation can be significant.

Whistleblowers and the Need for Legal Counsel

Seeking legal counsel before choosing to pass on information to anyone, either within or outside the company, is a smart move. An attorney can listen to what the client has to say and ask questions related to the evidence. Furthermore, the attorney helps the client understand what sort of outcomes are likely depending upon the actions they take. That includes what could happen if the client chooses to bypass internal personnel and go straight to the media or a government entity.

The attorney will also seek to protect the employee’s rights to the full extent of current laws. That includes preventing the client from losing his or her job. The attorney manages any communications between the alleged perpetrator. Also, they provide advice related to the client’s personal conduct while the investigation progresses. If the matter does result in a lawsuit, the attorney will usually continue to represent the client.

Whistleblowers sometimes feel that legal counsel isn’t necessary. However, help from an attorney is a good idea. Having legal guidance reduces the risk of retaliation. Also, it ensures proper procedures are followed. That’s important when it comes to approaching a government entity or making a case in court.

Do you have information about illegal activity within a pharmaceutical organization? There’s no reason to navigate your situation alone. You can have the help of an experienced legal team. Click to find out more about the rights and legal protections offered to a pharmaceutical whistleblower by contacting the Bothwell Law Group online.

Understanding the Basics of Whistleblower Legislation

What are the basics of whistleblower legislation, and how does it relate to you?

Basics of Whistleblower LegislationWhistleblower legislation isn’t a modern invention. It arose from corruption in the 19th Century, particularly as predatory companies scrambled to take advantage of government expenditures made during the Civil War. Fighters on both sides of the conflict were at a loss for essential supplies, from boots and jackets to edible food.

Companies contracted to provide the goods failed to deliver or dispensed products of such poor quality they were worthless. Widespread fraud directly contributed to deaths on the battlefield.

Establishing the ‘Lincoln Law’

President Abraham Lincoln is famous for many things, but one of his lasting achievements was the passage of the False Claims Act (FCA). Sometimes called the “Lincoln Law” in his honor, the act gives individuals the right to sue other people, businesses and organizations on behalf of the United States when they are guilty of defrauding government programs. Not only does it stop the crime from happening, it also gives the individual a chance to share in settlement or judgment payments.

Litigation doesn’t stop there. It’s important for fraud reporters to know criminal charges often accompany these lawsuits. A recent example is the owner of Texas-based Houston Healthcare Clinics, found guilty of Medicare fraud. The FCA case resulted in fines of $2.7 million and a 36-month prison sentence.  

The FCA has played a central role in breaking up corruption in all major industries. Inappropriate military spending was a hot topic in the 1880s and again in the 1980s. In previous decades, financial mismanagement was all the rage. Today? Whistleblowers are using the False Claims Act to force changes in the healthcare industry and stop companies from taking advantage of our most vulnerable populations.

How Is Fraud Uncovered?

One of the reasons Medicare fraud is on the rise is because of how easy it is to get away with it. Many times, patients are in no position to go over their insurance statements. Complicated rules regarding medical coding also make it difficult for a patient to know whether they’re billed correctly.

Many of the whistleblowers filing suit under the FCA are employees of companies committing fraud or their partners. A clinical social worker who noticed an ambulance company was providing transportation for patients at a premium sued the company and collected roughly $160,000 from the settlement. She helped her finances, but more importantly, she stopped the company from taking advantage of her patients and the Medicare program.

In other cases, secondary victims uncover the problem and speak out. In Florida, former medical director and whistleblower Dr. John Simons discovered his signature on paperwork he didn’t sign. Also from Florida, Dr. Donna Bell discovered a medical supply company was using her credentials to forge prescriptions for medical equipment to patients who weren’t in her care.

Rarely do victims have the knowledge or know-how to fight fraud impacting their bank accounts and their quality of life. It is up to people in the industry to keep businesses honest.

Why Is the Fair Claims Act So Effective?

The Fair Claims Act offers whistleblowers the best of both worlds. On one hand, you’re able to guide the hand of justice and reap the rewards. Some fraud reporters receive tens of millions of dollars for their role in stopping government-related fraud.

In May 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission awarded three whistleblowers a combined total of $83 million. That’s larger than most lottery winnings. But it didn’t happen by accident. The law rewarded the individuals for tipping off the SEC about fund mismanagement at Merrill Lynch.

The promise of financial reward is essential to convincing some people to come forward. Why? Because of the risks involved in outing crime.

The federal and state governments have laws to protect whistleblowers from harassment, demotion, dismissal, blacklisting and other forms of retaliation. Sometimes these laws only apply to public workers. In few areas do they extend to all employees. In False Claims cases, you might have fewer options.

Looking for Legal Protection?

It’s helpful to work with a competent legal team who understands whistleblower protections. How you report on problems makes all the difference.

A court dismissed the case of Kathy Reitzel, former finance director for the Keys School District in Florida. In 2009, the school board forced Reitzel to retire early after she outed the district’s director of adult education for embezzlement. Monique Acevedo, the wife of then-superintendent Randy Acevedo, racked up over $400,000 in personal charges on the school’s accounts.

Unfortunately, Reitzel had knowledge of the embezzlement in 2007. She went to the superintendent to deal with the matter privately. If she’d gone through the proper channels, the school board said, Reitzel would have saved the district a significant amount of money — and her job.

Having guidance when navigating whistleblower laws will ensure you stop wrongdoings without putting yourself at excessive risk.

Contact the experienced whistleblower legislation attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by clicking or calling 770.643.1606 today.

What You Need to Know about Different States’ Whistleblower Laws Before Coming Forward

How do different states’ whistleblower laws differ from federal protection?

state whistleblower lawsStates’ whistleblower laws provide added protection for people, but they also come with their own set of eligibility requirements. Assumptions can spoil your case before it even begins. Working with a lawyer can help you navigate the complaint process the appropriate way to ensure you’re covered by whistleblower protections. You might also be able to share in any judgments or settlements arising from your complaint.

Which States Have Whistleblower Protection Laws?

The federal government has a few different laws protecting employees who come forward about bad practices in the world place. In some instance, these complaints fall under the False Claims Act. If the inappropriate behavior involves defrauding the government, the person reporting the fraud can file a lawsuit on behalf of the nation. Once the case is over, the reporter is eligible to up to 30 percent of judgment or settlement fees.

Other federal laws protect the rights of public employees. Generally, these laws prevent demotion, firing, industry blacklisting, unreasonable work changes, and harassment. The same is true for laws in certain states.

The following states do not have whistleblower protection laws:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Some states extend whistleblower protection to public employees. Others, like California, extend those rights to everyone. However, in states without whistleblower protections, professional associations and company policies often provide them.

However, in order to be eligible for protection under laws or policies, complaints have to follow proper procedures.

What Benefits Are Available to Whistleblowers?

There are different types of whistleblower complaints, but the two most common are:

  • Employees turning in a business for illegal or unethical behavior, and
  • Individuals turning in a person or business for government-related fraud

Whistleblower protection for employees prevents on-the-job harassment, industry blacklisting, firing or demotion, and the assignment of unreasonable transfers or changes in duties. In some cases, whistleblowers are able to stay anonymous.

Take, for instance, the case of 15-year hospital staffer Donna D. Ladka, of White River Junction, New Hampshire. After complaining about a doctor’s inappropriate sexual behavior, the doctor stopped speaking with her and the hospital relegated Ladka to paperwork duties. Gifford Medical Center later fired Ladka, citing supposed patient privacy violations. The hospital opted to settle with Ladka out of court, and the doctor involved had to undergo ethics training.

When it comes to fraud cases, whistleblowers enjoy additional benefits. The False Claims Act gives people the right to sue on behalf of the U.S. government. If the case is successful and results in a judgment or settlement, the whistleblower receives up to a third of the payment.

People can opt out of both protections and financial benefits in the blink of an eye simply by complaining in the wrong way. It’s important to understand the state and federal laws relevant to your situation so you don’t give away your rights.

Even then, there are situations which might leave you at risk.

Whistleblowers Who Left Themselves Vulnerable

Employer concerns over employee social media posts have grown steadily with the rise of sites like Twitter and Facebook. So many people were being fired – and contesting – over criticisms of their companies, the National Labor Relations Board addressed the topic specifically.

While encouraging employers to judge instances on a case by case basis, the NLRB supported firings, demotions, and similar consequences when an employee shares damaging personal opinions online. If you’re posting a complaint held by a group of employees? You could be in the clear.

Unfortunately, by venting online you might be giving up other important rights. For instance, a government agency who sees your post could sue your company based on those complaints before you get the chance. Therefore, if they’re found guilty of defrauding the government, you wouldn’t have a claim to any portion of the judgment.

Social media is a wonderful way for consumers to make changes in the way their favorite companies do business. However, employees should stick with official procedures for logging complaints. Sometimes, these missteps are surprising.

Barbara Gonzales, former financial director for Killeen, Texas, found out how hard it can be to register your complaint to the proper authorities. In Texas, whistleblower protections extend only to employees who notify a police officer of crimes committed in the workplace. City and company policies often fail to acknowledge this process, encouraging people to file complaints in alternative ways that will leave them vulnerable.

Finally, while protections are available at the state and federal level, whistleblowers need help navigating the legal waters when it comes to stopping fraud and other crime. Click to find out more about state whistleblower laws by contacting Bothwell Law Group online.

Is Workplace Whistleblowing Effective in Educational Settings?

When it comes to education, workplace whistleblowing might seem like a more significant risk than it is.

Workplace WhistleblowingIs workplace whistleblowing really protected when it comes to education? The way some administrators run their schools and districts would make you wonder. Just asking for small changes or money for simple repairs can put you on the naughty list. It can be hard to believe that making an official complaint would lead to anything but problems, but there are laws to protect you from facing retaliation. In some cases, it’s possible to make a complaint while staying completely anonymous.

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Being part of a team is central to educational institutions and a team spirit is key to their success. Every teacher, every aide, every tutor or janitor in place plays a role in motivating students to perform their best. It’s normal for administrators to put in 110 percent and to expect the same from their employees.

Working as part of something larger than yourself is a rewarding experience, but what happens when problems arise? There will always be some people who see any criticism as an attack. Others will always feel strongly you should keep complaints to yourself or handle them privately. Turning in a complaint might come across as disloyalty, and suddenly, you’re not dealing with a problem anymore. You’re in a situation where it is you vs. them. If you “snitch,” you become the enemy.

This destructive cycle affects schools throughout the U.S. and has contributed to significant abuses regarding the handling of funds and of students. It’s imperative for people to feel safe coming forward about problems to ensure our kids stay safe. Unfortunately, the community culture among most school staff works against filing complaints.

Avoiding an “Us vs. Them” Situation

In theory, there are laws in place to protect whistleblowers; however, regarding education, strict guidelines are dictating how and to whom they should make the complaints. A lawyer can walk you through the specifics of your situation, though the Department of Education covers the basic framework here.

Government employees have different protections and responsibilities than those who are working for contractors, or perhaps, just applying for jobs.

The law can prevent you from being:

  • Fired
  • Demoted
  • Transferred
  • Harassed
  • Or threatened

Among other things, for filing a complaint, the law can’t force your coworkers to continue to trust you or be friendly. Hiring a lawyer before filing a complaint can sometimes help you preserve your anonymity.

The Difference Workplace Whistleblowing Makes on Student Quality of Life

For obvious reasons, it’s difficult for whistleblowers in education to come forward, but the benefits often outweigh the risks. When institutions misuse and abuse their positions, they have a direct and negative impact on the lives of students.

For instance, whistleblowers in education have been responsible for stopping:

  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Failure to provide adequate special education
  • Mismanagement of school funds

Unfortunately, too many people assume they have protections they don’t have when sharing information. According to the Department of Education, there are only certain people to whom you can complain to for whistleblower laws to count.  

Former Illinois principal Julie McArdle found this out the hard way when raising concerns about questionable spending of her predecessor-turned-superior. Not only was McArdle fired, but the court found in the school boards favor, saying First Amendment protection doesn’t apply when you’re speaking on behalf of a government employer. She hadn’t made the complaint to the appropriate person, so it wasn’t covered under whistleblower laws or as freedom of speech.

Things are turning out differently for a part-time nurse for the Park City School District in Utah. After facing harassment, hostility, and termination following her official complaints regarding a lack of services for diabetic students, Nicole Kennedy sued the district and select administrators for violating whistleblower laws. Summit County 3rd District Court Judge Richard Mrazik refused to dismiss the lawsuit last month. The case is currently in mediation.

Education Fraud and Qui Tam Lawsuits

The False Claims Act allows individuals to bring qui tam lawsuits against those who engage in government-related fraud on behalf of the nation. These cases allow whistleblowers to share in judgments. Billions of dollars go to whistleblowers every year. However, it’s essential to file claims in the right way to be eligible to take part.

Fraud cases from the last year include:

  • Individuals filling out federal loan applications for students without their knowledge
  • Event planners scamming schools out of money for services they never intended to provide
  • Tutoring companies billing the government for services they did not offer
  • Charter schools using deceptive strategies to avoid paying taxes

What’s unique in these situations is that companies faced fines but individuals also went to jail—in some cases, for ten years or more.

We know how difficult it is to stand up and do the right thing. Having the proper legal representation makes whistleblowing simpler and safer.

Contact the skilled workplace whistleblowing attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today or connecting with us online.

How a Lawyer for Whistleblowers Works

How does a lawyer for whistleblowers help and protect you? We’ll show you how to fight back and stay safe.

Lawyer for WhistleblowersUnder the law, a lawyer for whistleblowers is meant to ensure people feel safe coming forward when bad people are doing bad things. In certain situations, you can file complaints anonymously to help prevent retaliation. In others, you may be able to benefit financially from uncovering fraud and other wrongdoings.

Generally speaking, laws protect whistleblowers from the following:

  • Threats or harassment
  • Demotion or termination
  • Industry blacklisting
  • Failure to promote
  • Prosecution

Your employer’s policies will have the most significant impact on the responses you should expect for filing a complaint with the company or against the company through an outside agency. Your HR department should have an updated employee handbook, a document you should be able to request without raising any red flags.

The protections provided through U.S. and state law depend primarily on your situation. Who is your employer? What are you reporting? Every whistleblower doesn’t have the same protection.

Understanding the Whistleblower Protection Act

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 provide federal employees with the right to disclose information on wrongdoing. Other federal and state laws encourage reporting of wrongdoing while offering measures to keep informants safe.

In certain situations, enforcing privacy rules is essential to protecting whistleblowers. For instance, laws prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from revealing the identity of informants or information that could lead to their identification. People’s lives are in danger when millions of dollars are at stake. A lawyer can help you limit your risks of exposure.

Unfortunately, the courts responsible for claims sometimes restrict the way they interpret the laws, placing whistleblowers at risk. If you have to expose classified information, for example, it’s important to discuss the ramifications with a legal consultant. Espionage charges are no laughing matter. It’s essential to protect the public. But laws are in place to make that possible while avoiding jail or other negative repercussions.

Protected Actions and Liabilities

It’s important to distinguish between whistleblowing activities and other actions an employee takes. Whistleblowing will not protect you from the consequences of your behavior. Mark Whitacre is a good example.

As an executive for an agricultural corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, Whitacre outed the company for price-fixing while at the same time embezzling more than $9 million. Being a whistleblower didn’t stop him from going to jail for his crimes.  

Likewise, if you engage in behavior that breaks codes of conduct at your employment in the wake of a complaint, you might face termination, demotion and other repercussions. The business just can’t target you unfairly because you brought problems to light.

Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act

Some of the laws not only provide protection from harm but offer incentives for exposing illegal activities. The False Claims Act (FCA) affords individuals the right to file qui tam lawsuits, meaning they can sue others on behalf of the United States government. If a court decides the defendant is guilty of defrauding the government, the whistleblower receives 15 – 30 percent of the judgment. The law has successfully reduced corruption in a number of industries.

These days, courts wield the FCA to stop Medicaid and Medicare fraud, but it’s useful in other applications as well. Last year, the law helped reclaim more than $3 billion in government funds.

In one case, when a senior control analyst for medical device-manufacturer Alere came forward regarding the product’s unreliability, she received $5.4 million as part of a settlement agreement.

Mylan Inc., the manufacturer of the EpiPen, came under fire for raising their products price by over 400 percent. At the same time, the company was misclassifying the product as a generic to qualify for a lower 13 percent Medicaid rebate rate. The $465 million went back into federal and state healthcare programs.

Billing Complications

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice might have become too critical of billing policies in recent years. In November 2017, a court overturned a landmark billion-dollar judgment against rehabilitation center HCRManor after the company’s legal team successfully argued against the DOJ’s discover methods and star witness.

It’s important to discuss your risks and obligations in situations where you file a case but wind up losing in the end. You also want to ask about the appropriate method for making a claim. Until recently, for instance, if whistleblowers turned information over to an agency before informing the SEC of a problem, they were ineligible for qui tam representation.

New “safe harbor” rules recently allowed an informant to collect a $2.2 million in a case where before the government could have claimed every penny. There are many ways to protect your rights by using industry rules and legislation.

Are you considering blowing the whistle? Make sure you have the legal guidance you need before you move forward. Click to find out more about protection for whistleblowers by contacting Bothwell Law Group online.

Do Whistleblower Protection Laws Apply to All Industries?

Unraveling what Whistleblower Protection Laws mean for you.

whistleblower protection lawWhistleblower Protection Laws aren’t as simple as one body of legislation. Federally, over 20 laws address reporting crimes and other wrongdoings. Each state has its own laws governing retaliation and the like. Professional associations have their own methods for managing complaints within their respective industries. Outcomes depend on the types of information you are sharing. They also depend on the role you play in the offending organization. Finally, they depend on whether or not you use the appropriate methods for calling attention to the problem.

What Is Whistleblowing?

The broadest definition of whistleblowing is reporting on criminal or otherwise immoral conduct by a company, organization or individual. Many states narrow the term to mean employees – perhaps limited to those employed by the government – who are reporting on criminal activity committed by their employer. Where you live and work, the type of work you do and the offenses you’re reporting on will all determine whether you’re covered under Whistleblower Protection Law.

Speaking out about wrongdoings in the workplace is a bold move regardless of what legal protections are in place. The government understands workers make sacrifices to bring attention to problems. Whistleblowers might face social isolation, threats, financial stress and other consequences, not to mention the guilt of turning friends and associates into the authorities for actions which could have noble intentions.

Take Medical Insurance Fraud

Medical insurance fraud is a good example. An assistant in a dental office might notice additional billing for services no one has rendered. The dentist explains the fees cover co-pays for parents who can’t afford them. It sounds legitimate enough, but experience shows a dentist who will fudge copays will eventually put patient care at risk to increase profits. It’s a slippery slope.

Under whistleblower laws, it’s possible the assistant could go to the authorities with fraudulent billing complaints or sue the dentist through a qui tam case. When individuals bring suits against those who defraud the government, they not only put a stop to waste, they have the opportunity to collect a healthy portion of judgments and settlements. The provision is part of one of the oldest laws on whistleblowing, the False Claims Act, otherwise known as Lincoln’s Law.

Every industry has some protection afforded to whistleblowers, even national security and the military. In fact, the Whistleblower Protection Act Former President Ronald Reagan signed into effect in 1989 had concern for federal employees at the forefront. However, whistleblowers in every industry have protection available when turning employers in for various infractions.

Examples of Whistleblowers Across Industries

  • Linda Tripp – White House staffer during the Clinton Administration who went public with the President’s extramarital affair with young intern Monica Lewinsky
  • Frank Serpico – New York police officer who came forward with complaints about corruption within the department
  • Karen Silkwood – A chemical technician who worked for Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site and raised concerns regarding the company’s handling of plutonium
  • Jeffrey Wigand – A tobacco company executive who admitted the industry knew their products were addictive
  • Mark Whitacre – An executive for a commodities trading company, informed the FBI of company price-fixing
  • Sherron Watkins – Enron Corp. executive who exposed the oil companies’ fraudulent practices

Pros and Cons of Being a Whistleblower

In many cases, whistleblowers receive a portion of settlements or court judgments against the companies they expose. In other situations, they’re the subjects of books, movies or awards. While fame and fortune don’t always follow, blowing the whistle on important matters can result in major financial gains. It can also lead to jail time.

In 2010, an Army soldier named Bradley Manning released over 750,000 classified documents online through WikiLeaks to support claims of misconduct by U.S. forces. Manning wound up facing a potential death sentence, ultimately sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth.

Similarly, government contractor Edward Snowden faces espionage charges for releasing classified documents of the National Security Agency. He remains a wanted man on American soil. However, Snowden has escaped prosecution and is currently living in Russia under the protection of asylum.

Making the Right Decision Requires Qualified Legal Representation

Whistleblower protection laws don’t protect every employee in every situation. The confines of your position and the type of information you share has a big impact on the final outcome. Breaking certain legal agreements, national security protocols and other requirements of your job can land you in hot water. However, performed within the confines of the law, blowing the lid off wrongdoing is a smart and brave way to better the world. It’s essential for potential whistle-blowers to seek legal counsel before they come forward.

Click to find out more about Whistleblower Protection Law by contacting Bothwell Law Group online.

How Whistleblower Laws Can Prevent Bad Stewardship of Taxpayer Dollars

Put whistleblower laws to work for the common man.

whistleblower lawsWhistleblower laws make it easy for people to come forward when they know trouble is afoot. They also encourage people to bust corruption wide open by offering them protection from retaliation — and the chance to receive a small fortune.

How the False Claims Act Encourages People to Do the Right Thing

Telling the truth isn’t always easy, especially when lies seem to have good intentions behind them. Many instances of fraud look like someone has done something to help out the little guy, but the bigger picture shows a different story.

Take Medicaid insurance fraud, for example. Policies in states like Iowa are changing to drastically limit the amount of dental work state insurance will cover in a year. Why?  Because so many dental offices have figured out ways to bilk the system tens of thousands of dollars per patient. They’ve performed unnecessary work, lied about services and even put people in danger to make an extra few dollars. Now, children will suffer without the dental care they need because of greed. These kinds of crimes count!

It takes a brave soul to say something, but if you face the risks you may reap the benefits. Consider the hospital employee who turned the company in for falsifying grant applications. The facility didn’t house nearly many as beds as they’d claimed. The result was a $12.9 million settlement, of which $3.3 million went to the whistleblower.

Filing Suit ‘For the People’

The False Claims Act makes it possible for individuals to sue corporations, groups, and individuals for defrauding the government. Individuals wage these “qui tam” lawsuits on behalf of the nation.

The law sweetens the deal by allowing the filer to take home a portion of the winnings. While this isn’t the only reason whistleblowers come forward, it fuels motivation in many cases.

As the law is currently written, whistleblowers can share in up to 30 percent of a settlement, based on triple the damages involved in a case. See the wrong thing at the right time, and your conscience could make you a lot of money.

Unfortunately, whistleblowing doesn’t come without risk. Laws and industry policies offer various forms of protection, but they do not apply to everyone in every situation. State laws might also limit the reach of federal practices, so it’s important to seek legal counsel before coming forward with damaging information.

Whistleblower policy often protects against the following:

  • Termination and demotion
  • Hostility and threats
  • Severe schedule changes or expectations

Changes to the False Claims Act Through the Years

While perfectly suited to deal with the problems of the modern day, the False Claims Act arose out of the corruption of the Civil War. The greed of the day horrified leaders. Contractors promised to provide troops with quality food, clothing, and supplies only to fail to deliver. These bad business deals, fueled with government funds, sometimes left Union Army troops starving and stranded.

President Abraham Lincoln, initially signed the False Claims Act in 1863, making it clear early on that the United States would not let corruption take hold. It cleaned up the country’s track record … for a while.

Unfortunately, the country forgot those lessons as the years rolled on. During the 1940s, Congress gutted the False Claims Act, removing all incentive for people to report fraud affecting government funds. It wasn’t until the Reagan Administration that people began to take this duty seriously. Today, there are significant protections for those looking to help the little guy.

The False Claims Act is just one way to fight corruption at the government level and secure tax dollars for those with good intentions. However, the country has 22 federal laws giving protection to whistleblowers of various kinds. States have their own standards. Associations and licensing boards offer their own incentives as well.

Using Whistleblower Laws to Your Advantage

Throughout the last 100 years, whistleblowers have uncovered serious risks to government funding and to the people. Karen Silkwood gave her life to the cause when a mysterious auto accident prevented her from testifying against her employer. Critics of his decision to speak out on police corruption shot Frank Serpico. He narrowly survived. Edward Snowden is currently living abroad pending extradition to the U.S. on espionage charges for sharing classified documents with the press.

Protection laws do not offer ultimate protection or keep you safe from all legal repercussions. It’s important to discuss your situation with a legal representative before you speak out.

Contact skilled whistleblower laws attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.

Are Protections for Whistleblowers Enough to Make It Worth It?

Protections for whistleblowers are essential for the False Claims Act to work correctly.

Protections for WhistleblowersWithout adequate protections for whistleblowers, fewer individuals will come forward to report fraud. The act of blowing the whistle is a stressful and challenging decision. Most potential whistleblowers know they might face backlash for bringing the fraud to light. Congress understands these risks. So, there are several provisions in the Claims Act to provide protections for those who serve as whistleblowers.

Confidentiality of the Whistleblower

The best protection for a whistleblower is to stay unknown. This is somewhat easy to do early in the whistleblowing process. An anonymous email or phone call to the right government regulating agency may be enough to stop the fraud and catch those responsible. But in most situations, that’s not enough. The phone call or email may be enough to start an investigation. But it’s probably not enough to result in prosecution of the responsible parties.

To make the most of the whistleblowing, a qui tam lawsuit may be necessary. This is a unique civil lawsuit where a whistleblower (called a relator), sues the responsible party on behalf of the federal government. To begin a qui tam lawsuit, the relator will file the civil complaint “under seal.” That is a legal term for “in secret.” After filing the complaint, the relator will notify only the government about the qui tam action. The government will then investigate the case and determine if it will join the relator in the qui tam action.

During this investigation period, which can last many months, the identity of the whistleblower will remain hidden. That means the whistleblower will be relatively safe. But as the case proceeds through court, the responsible party will likely discover who the whistleblower is.

Rewarding the Whistleblower

One possible way to protect the whistleblower is to provide a financial reward for blowing the whistle. The chance for a potentially sizeable reward can provide financial protection in case the whistleblower loses his or her job or is unable to find continued employment. This reward is only possible if the whistleblower brings a qui tam action. Or, if there is a specific whistleblowing law that allows for the reward.

In most cases, the reward will only be possible in a qui tam action brought under the False Claims Act. This means the whistleblower can expect an award that is equal to 20 to 25 percent of the total amount of money recovered by the government. In some situations, the whistleblower will receive less. For example, when they have relatively little involvement in gathering additional evidence of the fraud or they actually took part in it. But in some cases, they can receive more, such as 30 percent of the total amount of money recovered. This is possible when the whistleblower receives little, if any, help from the government during the qui tam lawsuit.

False Claims Act Anti-Retaliation Provisions

Finally, there are the anti-retaliation provisions in the False Claims Act. These prohibit an employer from retaliating against a whistleblowing employee. The retaliation can take many forms, including firing and employee discipline. If the whistleblower can prove retaliation, they can potentially receive double the amount of actual damages (such as lost wages) plus reinstatement and attorney’s fees.

To prove retaliation, the whistleblower must establish three things: that the employee participated in whistleblowing activities, the employer knew who the whistleblowing employee was and the employer discriminated against the employee because he or she was a whistleblower. This last requirement is often the hardest to prove. An employer who really wants to retaliate against the employee will often make up some other explanation for the firing.

For example, the employer will say they fired the employee because he or she was late to work or had other unrelated disciplinary issues. The employer will also try to hide the fact that it knew who the whistleblower was. Remember, the employer cannot be liable for retaliation if it didn’t know the identity of the whistleblower. It’s impossible for an employer to retaliate against a whistleblower if it didn’t realize the whistleblower engaged in whistleblowing activities. All this means that whistleblowers sometimes have a difficult battle proving that the employer violated the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provisions.

Is It Enough?

That’s a loaded question and one that is impossible to answer without more information. Whether protections for whistleblowers are adequate will depend on where the retaliation may come from, if a qui tam reward is possible and the chances that reporting fraud will result in an investigation or court case. To get a better understanding of the risks of whistleblowing, an individual should consult with an attorney who does work on whistleblower cases.

Want to Find Out More about Protections for Whistleblowers Stay Safe?

Contact the skilled protection for whistleblowers attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by clicking or calling 770.643.1606 today.