Finding out that your employer is breaking the law is stressful. Will you lose your job if you complain? Will you be iced out of meetings or reassigned? People are rightfully worried about retaliation and fear speaking up. If you are one of the brave people who want to speak up, you can be a whistleblower. Fortunately, the law provides substantial protections to whistleblowers and, in certain instances, you may even be able to recover a reward for coming forward.
In this blog, we discuss what makes an individual a whistleblower, as well as what you can do if you believe you have a claim.
What is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an insider who uncovers misconduct or fraud and reports it, either internally or outside the organization. Whistleblowers take professional, social, and financial risks by stepping forward, and the law recognizes their bravery by providing a variety of legal protections.
When it comes to reporting internally, whistleblowers are protected from retaliation. This means that they have an employment law claim when they suffer adverse employment consequences because they complain internally about misconduct.
In many cases, whistleblowers can also provide information to government agencies. Whistleblowers who choose to go this route should always contact an attorney before they contact government agencies or law enforcement. If they don’t, they may risk their right to recover whistleblower rewards, or bounties, for providing information that leads to enforcement actions against the employer.
Common Types of Whistleblower Cases
Employees at companies that sell securities may learn that the company is cooking the books to make it look more attractive to investors. These employees may have knowledge of securities fraud. Employees who learn of securities fraud are protected from retaliation and also can recover a whistleblower reward from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Talking to a lawyer can help a securities whistleblower maximize the chance the SEC acts on the tip and issues a whistleblower reward.
SEC whistleblower rewards can anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars.
When government contractors intentionally provide substandard services, fail to disclose illegal bribes during the bidding process, or otherwise defraud the government, they are ripping off American taxpayers. Whistleblowers who speak up about government contractor fraud are protected from retaliation and may be entitled to double their lost wages, emotional distress damages, and attorneys’ fees.
As with SEC whistleblowers, government contractor whistleblowers may be entitled to a whistleblower reward, apart from the damages they suffer personally. The amount of this reward is between 15 and 30% of the total amount of damages caused by the fraud, including penalties.
Medicare fraud is a subset of government contractor fraud. Often, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals learn that the government is being overbilled for services provided to Medicare or MediCal patients. These frauds include things like:
- Prescribing unnecessary services to tack them onto the bill
- Creating bills or services that were not provided
- Charging for additional, more expensive services, instead of the cheaper services that were actually provided.
The government has recovered over $38 billion of taxpayer money as a result of whistleblowers reporting Medicare fraud. Like other government contractor fraud whistleblowers, Medicare and MediCal whistleblowers may be entitled to between 15 and 30% of the total amount of damages caused by the fraud, including penalties.
One common type of whistleblower case surrounds insurance fraud. This occurs when private insurance companies perform actions such as:
- Falsely adjusting the amount of a loss
- Creating fake bills for services that were never performed
- Giving kickbacks to medical professionals in exchange for referrals or drug prescriptions
- Not disclosing relevant information that would make a loss eligible for coverage
When these actions occur, it can cause premiums to rise while those who commit the crimes make a profit. When whistleblowers bring these cases to court, they are able to take away 30-40% of the amount recovered, depending on whether the government chooses to involve itself.
Whistleblowers who report tax fraud internally or to the IRS are also entitled to protection from retaliation and may have a claim for wrongful termination if they are fired. They also may be entitled to a whistleblower reward from the IRS if they report tax fraud concerning over $2 million in unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest. IRS whistleblowers are entitled to between 15 and 30% of the total amount recovered by the IRS if the IRS chooses to prosecute the fraud.
Some companies cheat the government by lying on customs forms and committing customs fraud. These companies lie about the items that are included in a shipment to avoid duties; they route items manufactured in countries subject to duties through countries that are not subject to duties to avoid tariffs, and they forge invoices to make it look like fewer items are included in shipments so they have to pay fewer duties.
Like other whistleblowers, customs fraud whistleblowers are protected from retaliation at work. They also may be able to recover between 15 and 30% of the amount of the fraud, plus penalties, through the False Claims Act.
Data Security and Privacy
In an increasingly digital world, many laws and regulations have been created to govern the collection of personal information by entities such as tech companies, health insurance providers, financial services, and government contractors.
Because this is a generally new area of law, data security fraud whistleblowers are not entitled to a whistleblower reward unless they fall into another category of whistleblower reward laws (for instance, if a publicly-traded company is lying about its data security practices, the whistleblower may be able to file a tip with the SEC). There are, however, existing laws that protect employees from retaliation from their employers and even wrongful terminations.
If You Believe You Have a Claim
The first thing to do if you believe you have a whistleblower claim is to keep a detailed record of the illegal activity. This includes any documents, notes from meetings/relevant conversations, and emails. This can help you when presenting your case to make sure no stone is left unturned.
The next step is to call an attorney. If you think you may be eligible for a whistleblower reward program, you should call an attorney before you talk to anyone else about the misconduct. This way, an experienced whistleblower attorney can help you strategize your best course of action in the coming proceedings to make sure your interests are protected during the investigation. They can also watch out for pitfalls that may make you ineligible for a whistleblower incentive reward.
Contact Our Los Angeles Employment Law Team Today
As a full-service employment law firm, King & Siegel LLP is capable of efficiently pursuing your retaliation and whistleblower claims. With our backgrounds in complex securities litigation and white-collar criminal defense, we have the experience necessary to help you navigate these complicated areas of law and spot claims that other attorneys may miss altogether.
To schedule your free consultation, contact us today through our website or give us a call at