What are whistleblowers' rights and protections?

What are the whistleblowers’ rights and protections?

Blowing the whistle on fraud or other illegal activity that hurts the public interest  – also known by the Latin term qui tam – is an act of civic service, and those that do it deserve to be protected. Without these protections, many whistleblowers would hesitate to raise the alarm for fear of personal retaliation. 

For this reason, the United States federal government passed a law providing protection – and sometimes, compensation – to whistleblowers in 1863, a time of great fraud perpetrated on the part of various Civil War military contractors. This law has been amended multiple times, but the core has remained the same. 

Known as The False Claims Act, the law protects whistleblowers from retaliation.  It is illegal for you to be discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other way discriminated against for filing a qui tam claim. Additionally, under certain circumstances, the whistleblower may be eligible for compensation. 

Our attorneys understand that whistleblowers who may have participated to some degree in submitting these claims may be reluctant to file a qui tam lawsuit. For those who elect to move forward with their claims, it is important to remember that your suit will be filed under seal and will remain confidential. Furthermore, the federal False Claims Act and certain state laws provide additional protection for whistleblowers.  

The anti-retaliation provisions of the False Claims Act protect whistleblowers from being fired, demoted, threatened, harassed, suspended or otherwise discriminated against in the terms or conditions of employment. If you are retaliated against for being a whistleblower, your attorney may file a lawsuit against your employer seeking:

  • Reinstatement if you were terminated
  • Twice the amount of back pay you lost as a result of the illegal retaliation
  • Interest on the back pay
  • Litigation costs, attorneys’ fees, and other special damages

If you would like to speak to a whistleblower attorney regarding your concerns about whistleblower protection & rights, please do not hesitate to contact us today. Any discussions you have with our attorneys are protected by the attorney-client privilege, which means that the discussions will remain confidential.

What Is Protected Activity?

Under the False Claims Act, an employee engages in protected activity when he or she opposes an attempt to get a false or fraudulent claim paid for or approved by the federal government. In general, the employee has three years after the date the retaliation occurred to take legal action.

It is important to speak with a lawyer to determine whether your whistleblower activity has legal protection.

Importantly, even if the employee did not file a whistleblower lawsuit, but only investigated the alleged fraudulent activity or filed an internal complaint with his or her employer, they may still have engaged in protected activity. He or she may be entitled to receive back pay, front pay, reinstatement and damages for any pain and suffering experienced as a result of the reprisal.

In addition, protected whistleblower activity can apply to persons who are not employees (such as contractors). The courts are constantly reinterpreting protected whistleblower activity, and previous rulings may impact your situation.

If you have been fired or otherwise retaliated against for blowing the whistle on your employer, contact us today to find out how we may be able to help you.

What Is Considered Retaliation? 

Some cases of retaliation are easy to spot. An employee files a claim, the manager or boss fires them right away. Simple, open-and-shut case. But retaliation can often be more subtle than that. Any of the following after the filing of a qui tam complaint can also constitute retaliation:

  • Harassment or discrimination in the workplace
  • Suspension, with or without pay
  • Demotion in pay or responsibility
  • Denial of benefits, bonuses, or promotions
  • Being made to feel unsafe or threatened in the workplace
  • Imposition of penalties or sanctions

If any of the following has occurred, you should speak to a qui tam attorney right away to go over your options. 

Whistleblower Lawsuits Filed Under Seal

The whistleblower lawsuit must, by law, be filed under seal. This means that all records relating to the case must be kept on a secret docket maintained by the court. Copies of the lawsuit are only given to the United States Department of Justice, the local United States Attorney, and the assigned judge of the District Court. The lawsuit and all other documents filed in the case remain under seal for a period of at least 60 days. At the conclusion of the 60 days, the Department of Justice may file a motion with the court requesting that the case remain under seal while it continues its investigation. In general, these motions usually request an extension of the seal for six months at a time.

Immunity From Prosecution

Although the person blowing the whistle may have knowledge of the fraudulent activity, he or she is not usually the person who conceived of and benefited from submitting false claims to the government. In most cases, the government does not investigate the conduct of the whistleblower.

However, to the extent that the whistleblower was involved in planning the fraudulent activities, our attorneys may be able to negotiate immunity in exchange for the whistleblower’s full cooperation with the investigation. The government is often eager to grant whistleblower immunity in cases where the individual blowing the whistle has knowledge of a vast corporate scheme involving executive-level employees.

Can A Whistleblower Be Anonymous?

Under federal and state False Claims Acts, qui tam lawsuits are kept “under seal” while the claim is being investigated. During this period, case details may not be viewed by either the accused (e.g., your employer) or the general public. Once the case becomes unsealed, however, it becomes a public matter and people may learn the identity of a whistleblower.

In other types of whistleblower cases—such as those filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodities Future Trading Commission—whistleblowers may, with help from an attorney, submit information anonymously. But even if a whistleblower submits information anonymously, in court proceedings and other circumstances, it may be necessary to disclose documents to outside entities that reveal a whistleblower’s identity.

If you have concerns about protecting your identity in a whistleblower case, please speak with our attorneys to learn about anonymity/confidentiality provisions under specific laws.

Whistleblower Laws By State

Many states have laws protecting whistleblowers who report false claims submitted to state and local governments. In certain instances, lawsuits may be filed under these state laws if the fraud involved the misuse of state funds or other types of fraud against a state government. Because the Medicaid program is funded jointly by federal and state governments, lawsuits involving hospital and pharmaceutical company fraud are often filed under both a state-law whistleblower statute and the federal False Claims Act. The following are laws enacted by states that protect individuals who blow the whistle on fraud against a state government:

  • California False Claims Act
  • Colorado Medicaid False Claims Act
  • Connecticut False Claims Act
  • Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act
  • District of Columbia False Claims Act
  • Florida False Claims Act
  • Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act
  • Hawaii False Claims Act
  • Illinois False Claims Act
  • Indiana False Claims and Whistleblower Protection Act
  • Iowa False Claims Act
  • Louisiana Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Act
  • Maryland False Health Claims Act
  • Massachusetts False Claims Act
  • Michigan Medicaid False Claims Act
  • Minnesota False Claims Act
  • Montana False Claims Act
  • Nevada Submission of False Claims to State or Local Government
  • New Hampshire Fraud and False Claims Act
  • New Jersey False Claims Act
  • New Mexico False Claims Act, New Mexico Medicaid False Claims Act, New Mexico Fraud Against Taxpayers Act
  • New York False Claims Act
  • North Carolina False Claims Act
  • Oklahoma Medicaid False Claims Act
  • Rhode Island False Claims Act
  • Tennessee False Claims Act, Tennessee Medicaid False Claims Act
  • Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act
  • Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act
  • Washington State Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act
  • Wisconsin False Claims for Medical Assistance Law

Get Us On Your Side 

If you have filed – or are considering filing a qui tam complaint – and are currently experiencing retaliation or are worried about future retaliation, you deserve the peace of mind of knowing someone has your back. We can help.  

To speak with an experienced whistleblower attorney, please contact us today. Following an initial consultation, our attorneys can help you determine whether a whistleblower lawsuit is appropriate and will work with you to protect your confidentiality.