What is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is a person, usually an employee, who reports the illegal practices or misconduct of an individual, company or even a government contractor. There can be both internal and external whistleblowers. For example, an employee could report the misconduct of a co-worker to their supervisor or they could report the company to an outside entity, such as the media, a watchdog organization or a government agency.
It is important to note that a whistleblower must reasonably believe that some law or regulation has been or is being violated. An employee must not indiscriminately report behavior that is not considered misconduct, or do so because they are unhappy with their employer for other reasons. Federal law grants retaliatory protection to an individual when the reporter, or “relator” testifies or initiates a legal proceeding on a protected matter or refuses to violate a law.
How are Whistleblowers Legally Protected Against Retaliation by Employers?
The government has an interest in encouraging employees to report unethical or illegal practices in the workplace. Therefore, there are several laws that protect whistleblowers against retaliation, in the event that the employer discharges or disciplines the employee. Although there are many state laws that protect whistleblowers, two prominent federal laws are:
- • False Claims Act – Enacted in 1863, and amended several time since, the False Claims Act allows an individual to report the misconduct of any entity that is required to submit claims to a federal agency and falsifies the claim (ex. a government contractor). Additionally, the False Claims Act permits an employee that participates in a federal investigation to file a lawsuit against the employer for retaliatory action. However, the employer must have been aware that the employee was assisting in an investigation or lawsuit.
- • Sarbanes-Oxley Act – The Sarbanes-Oxley Act includes federal legislation that protects employees within publicly traded companies. Any company that is publicly traded must report certain earnings information and activities to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), which is a federal agency. Passed in 2002, Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted in response to widespread corporate fraud, such as failing to comply with reporting requirements and manipulating asset and profit data. The Act makes retaliation against a whistleblower a criminal offense.
What are the Consequences of Retaliation Against a Whistleblower?
If a whistleblower is disciplined, fired, demoted, denied hours, denied benefits, reassigned to a lower position or intimidated and harassed by their employer merely for reporting misconduct, they may be entitled to:
- • Back pay with interest
- • Restoration of benefits
- • Monetary damages including special damages associated with any emotional distress and punitive damages to deter future misconduct
- • Reinstatement with seniority
- • Attorneys’ fees
How Do I Pursue a Whistleblower Claim?
Due to the complex nature of whistle blower complaints and the serious potential ramifications, any person considering taking action should first consult with an experienced attorney. Audet & Partners, LLP, is a nationally recognized class action firm with significant experience in labor law, including reviewing and investigating whistleblower claims. We represent individuals, consumers and small business owners who are aware of wrongdoing, and wish to do the right thing. We will provide you with a free, confidential evaluation and advise you on the best way to proceed with your claim.