“Whistleblowing” is a term for when an employee reports, or “blows the whistle,” on their employer for breaking the law. Typically, they will report to a law enforcement agency, and cannot be fired for doing so under whistleblowing laws. The following are common reasons whistleblowing occurs:
- Violation of public health laws, leading to illness or death
- Violation of workplace safety laws
- Violation of hiring and firing laws
- Mismanagement of funds
- Abuse of authority
It is important to note, that a whistleblowing employee may still be fired for other reasons not related to whistleblowing. For instance, if the employee has a history of absences or tardiness, the employer can terminate without violating any whistleblower laws.
What Rights Does a Whistleblower Have?
Federal laws protect workers who speak up about an employer who is breaking the law. Viewed as the eyes and ears of workplace safety, and the witnesses to questionable behavior, whistleblowing employees are afforded immunity against retaliation and termination after reporting the employer to law enforcement. If they are terminated because of whistleblowing, they have the right to sue their employer.
False Claims Act Whistleblower Employee Protections
For those employers who have to make claims to a federal agency, the government can investigate and sue an employer if it is found that those claims are falsified. If any employees assist with the investigation, they are protected against termination under the False Claims Act, also known as the “Lincoln Law.” If an employee was terminated, the employee must show the following to prove retaliatory termination:
- Their acts were protected under the False Claims Act
- The employer knew that the employee was assisting the government investigation
- The termination was in retaliation of the employee participating in protected activities
How Can I Prove That I Was Mistreated for Whistleblowing?
You should consult an attorney to help determine whether you were illegally mistreated. Generally, answering yes to the following questions shows a connection between the whistleblowing event and the violation of whistleblower laws:
- After you reported your employer, did you receive any negative employment actions?
- Is the information that you reported indicative of a law violation, and to whom and when did you report it?
- Did management know about the whistleblowing event?
- Did your reporting of the information contribute to the personnel action?
Is it Necessary for the Employer to Have Broken the Law?
If the reported event was not illegal, but the whistleblowing employee reasonably believed it was illegal, then they are still protected against any retaliation from their company, including termination.
Are Whistleblowers Awarded for Reporting Violations of the Law?
The False Claims Act provides whistleblowers to be awarded a percentage of what the government wins in its lawsuit against the employer. Initially, it was created to help stop fraud in Medicare and other government programs, and provided an incentive to potential whistleblowers who could experience backlash from the employer.
If any whistleblower was wrongfully terminated for reporting their employer’s violations of the law, they may be entitled to:
- Reinstatement with seniority
- Back pay plus interest
- Attorney’s fees and costs
- Special damages
How Much Can a Whistleblower Be Awarded?
Depending on the case, whistleblowers can receive anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of what the government collects from its lawsuit. For instance, if the lawsuit involved the IRS and penalties exceeded $2 million, the whistleblower could receive 15-30% of those penalties. Whatever legal fees the whistleblower incurs, they will be paid by the government.
What Happens If the Employer or Government Settle the Lawsuit?
If the case settles, the whistleblower will usually receive a smaller sum, but they will receive it much faster than if they had to wait years for the case to go to trial.
When Should an Employee Raise a Whistleblower Claim?
Whistleblower claims should be reported to an attorney or government official immediately. If the claim were to become public knowledge, the claim would likely be denied, and no protections offered.
Are There Other Whistleblower Laws?
There are numerous other whistleblower laws, but most don’t allow the employee to bring an immediate lawsuit for wrongful termination. Usually, the complaint is handled administratively, and filed with OSHA or the EEOC. If it is not resolved, then an administrative judge may be appointed.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
Blowing the whistle on an employer is a serious endeavor, and if you were wrongfully terminated, it could be complicated to prove. Consult an employment attorney immediately to discuss your best course of action. An experienced lawyer will help you build your case, collect evidence, and represent your best interests in court.