How to Become a Whistleblower

Sometimes, life presents us with difficult choices. Should we intervene when a friend’s partner is cheating, or should we mind our own business? Should we accept a lower salary for a job we’ll truly enjoy, even if it means tightening our belts?

These decisions can cause us to agonize, fearing we’ll make a regrettable mistake. Yet, there are moments when we are certain of the right path. When we uncover evidence of wrongdoing in our workplace, like harassment, fraud, or human rights violations, reporting is the unequivocal right thing to do.

However, navigating such situations can be challenging. Filing an internal complaint carries risks. It may lead the company to conceal its misdeeds, potentially jeopardizing our job for doing what’s right.

The best solution is probably to speak with a lawyer and learn how to become a whistleblower. By taking this step, you ensure that any misconduct is exposed and appropriately addressed. Moreover, it offers you legal safeguards and, in certain instances, the possibility of receiving financial incentives. So, how does the process work?

What is a Whistleblower?

Before we explain how to become a whistleblower, let’s first take a closer look at the whistleblower definition. 

A whistleblower is someone who reports evidence of wrongdoing to the proper authorities, known as authorized recipients. Authorized recipients could be police, government agencies, or individuals with proper authority or clearance.

Before approaching authorities with a whistleblower claim, you need to ensure the wrongdoing in question qualifies. In such cases, wrongdoing could include violating rules, regulations, or laws. It could entail mismanagement of funds or fraud of some sort.

Abuse of authority could also qualify, as could behaviors that impact public health or safety. What wouldn’t qualify is any personal grievances you might have with your company, disagreements among management, or policy disputes.

Further, you must have evidence of wrongdoing before becoming a whistleblower — allegations aren’t enough. You need the right information, and you must get it to the right people. Now that you understand what it means to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, how do you become a whistleblower?

Types of Whistleblowing

Many types of wrongdoing could qualify as worthy of whistleblowing. The overarching categories include:

  • Violations of law, rule, or regulation
  • Abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, and gross waste of funds
  • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
  • Urgent concerns

Violations include criminal activity like fraud, computer crimes, false statements or claims, ethics violations, and so on. When it comes to abuse of authority or mismanagement/waste of funds, it’s important to distinguish between actual violations and policy or management disputes.

Dangers to public health or safety could be anything from hiding the use of hazardous materials in consumer goods to identifying safety concerns at nuclear power plants. Urgent concerns include flagrant abuses or violations.

Some examples of behavior that could prompt whistleblowing include corruption, workplace discrimination, fraud, mismanagement, insider trading, mishandling data, violations of human rights, and other criminal activity. If you have evidence of such wrongdoing, you can engage in either external or internal whistleblowing.

External Whistleblowing

When you uncover wrongdoing by your employer, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about whom to approach within the company. What if the person you confide in is complicit or involved in the misconduct and helps cover it up?

By speaking up, you might jeopardize your job security. If you need help becoming a whistleblower within your organization, you may need to bypass the chain of command and directly approach the authorities. Doing so is known as external whistleblowing.

External whistleblowing could entail presenting any evidence to the police or the media. Consulting with a seasoned attorney is your best course of action to safeguard yourself. They will assist you in comprehending the process and provide guidance throughout.

Internal Whistleblowing

Determining whether misconduct or wrongdoing in your organization qualifies as whistleblowing can be challenging. It’s possible that the wrongdoing is unintentional or that upper management is unaware of the situation. You may wish to provide your employers with an opportunity to clarify or rectify the issue you’ve uncovered.

If so, you would approach someone in the company with the evidence you’ve uncovered, such as a supervisor, manager, or HR representative. When it comes to how to whistleblow internally, it’s best to carefully consider who would be the proper person to approach.

How to Become a Whistleblower

Who can be a whistleblower? You might think whistleblowing can only be done by employees of a company engaged in wrongdoing, but this isn’t the case. Anyone, including U.S. citizens, non-citizens, and non-governmental agencies.

In some cases, you can remain anonymous as a whistleblower, but if you are called on to testify in court, you may not have this option. It’s possible you could face retaliation from your employer. However, there are protections in place, thanks to several laws related to whistleblowing.

The False Claims Act, originally signed by President Lincoln in 1863, has undergone several revisions, with provisions added to incentivize and protect whistleblowers. Violations under the False Claims Act frequently fall into the category of fraudulent acts, providing false information, selling faulty goods, or failing to comply with rules and regulations.

For securities law violations, you would be protected under the Sarbanes Oxley Act. The IRS has a whistleblower program related to tax fraud and scams. With legal help, you can determine whether you’re eligible for whistleblower status, what you stand to gain or lose, and how to file a claim with the proper authorities.

Determine Eligibility

Whether you qualify for protection as a whistleblower will depend on several factors. First and foremost, you must have evidence that qualifying wrongdoing has occurred, and your evidence must be adequate to satisfy authorities.

The right lawyer can help you determine whether your allegations of wrongdoing fit the bill for being a whistleblower. You should also be aware of the “first to file” rule. While all whistleblowers are granted protection against retaliation, only the first to file the claim for a case of wrongdoing is eligible for rewards, should any apply.

In qui tam cases, where a lawsuit is launched for actions that defrauded the government, associated financial losses may be reclaimed. In such cases, the first whistleblower to file may be eligible to receive a portion of the money recovered, with rewards ranging from 15-30% of recovery.

Consider Your Decision

There are several good reasons to become a whistleblower. Many people do it simply because it’s the right thing to do, legally and ethically. It allows authorities (either internally or externally) to act on sensitive information, stopping wrongdoing and potentially correcting it.

Such action could help to create safer workplaces, protect public health and safety, and potentially save the government (and taxpayers) money. Understanding why and how to be a whistleblower can also ensure you’re protected against retaliation.

When you blow the whistle on corporate wrongdoing, you may naturally fear that you will lose your job or face hostility in the workplace, making your position untenable. There are laws to protect you from retaliation and deter behaviors like intimidation meant to stop you from pursuing a whistleblower claim. 

If you plan to become a whistleblower, you will need the assistance of a qualified attorney who can help you take advantage of the protections available to you.

Hire a Lawyer

Understanding how to become a whistleblower isn’t easy on your own, but you don’t have to. An experienced whistleblower attorney can help you determine if you have a case and, if so, how to proceed.

This professional can offer legal guidance and support throughout the process, help you compile and file your claim, and inform you about options like filing anonymously. Your lawyer will also understand whistleblower protections and how to find out whether you’re eligible.

Understand Your Protections

Before you dive into the specifics about how to be a whistle blower, you might want to know what protections you’re afforded. The False Claims Act, for example, protects you from acts of retaliation by your employer, including harassment, discrimination, demotion, or job loss because of your whistleblower status.

If these situations occur, you may be entitled to relief in the form of reinstatement to your position, double back pay, and compensation for special damages, which could include attorney fees and other litigation expenses. There are also laws to deter intimidation and threats or witness tampering. Such offenses are considered a crime and could result in additional charges and penalties for your employer.

File a Claim

Filing a claim is much easier when you work with a lawyer to fully understand the whistle blowing process. First, you must gather evidence to support your claim of wrongdoing. From there, you’ll create a protected disclosure outlining the wrongdoing and deliver it to an authorized person or entity.

You may need to file your claim and evidence confidentially, under seal, with a federal district court and maintain confidentiality until the seal is lifted. Additionally, you must make sure you meet deadlines for the statute of limitations.

Whistleblowing Best Practices

It can be challenging to know how to proceed when you uncover wrongdoing. Learning how to become a whistle blower can be complicated and fraught with missteps if you’re not careful.

If you want to make sure your allegations are sound and you’re doing the right thing, you should start by verifying that wrongdoing has occurred. Take the time to understand company policies and double-check evidence so that you’re positive a law has been broken before you make any allegations.

If you’re not sure, investigate to the best of your ability. You will have to present authorities with evidence, so gather it carefully and try not to break any laws yourself.

Finally, follow the chain of command. If you feel confident you can trust a supervisor or HR representative to escalate your concerns, you may want to start with internal reporting. If nothing happens, you face retaliation or fear that superiors are participating in or covering up wrongdoing, it’s time to find a lawyer and become an external whistleblower.

Hire a Whistleblower Lawyer at Audet & Partners

Understanding how to become a whistleblower starts with finding an experienced whistleblower lawyer to review your evidence, tell you if you have a case of wrongdoing, inform you of your options, and guide you through the process. Our lawyers have specialized in whistleblower cases for years and are here to protect you. 

Whether you’re reporting securities fraud violations, healthcare fraud offenses, false claims act infractions, or any other form of corporate misconduct—the attorneys at Audet & Partners can advise you on the steps required to become a whistleblower and how to navigate your case through investigation.

The compassionate and qualified team at Audet & Partners is committed to supporting and protecting whistleblowers. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.

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