Unraveling what Whistleblower Protection Laws mean for you.
Whistleblower 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.