Am I a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is someone who learns of illegal activity and reports it, either internally or to government agencies. The illegal conduct does not need to be occurring at your employer; for instance, you could learn that a client or subcontractor is commiting fraud and suffer retaliation for reporting it. You would be a whistleblower in this situation.
Whistleblowers have been protected by law for hundreds of years. In California, a number of laws protect whistleblowers. Our top whistleblower attorneys can help you determine if you are a whistleblower. We encourage you to contact us for a free case review if you would like to talk through your situation and better understand your rights.
Types of Whistleblower Cases
Whistleblowers report a wide variety of misconduct, so there are many types of whistleblower cases.
Data Privacy & Security Whistleblowers
As regulators catch up to the new data-driven economy, an increasing number of laws govern personal data collected or maintained by tech companies, health insurers, financial services firms, and government contractors. Companies can be slow to come into compliance with these rules, and well-intentioned employees often meet internal resistance for explaining that their employer is breaking the law.
While the California Consumer Privacy Act does not contain any specific whistleblower protections--attempts to include such provisions were struck by industry lobbyists--existing law protects employeers who complain about illegal conduct at work. If your employer retaliates against you for challenging data privacy or security practices, you may have a claim for wrongful demotion or wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Insurance Fraud Whistleblowers
Fraud against private insurance companies is bad for everyone: it makes premiums rise and allows wrongdoers to profit from their intentional misconduct. California has enacted a special whistleblower protection law to address this problem. This law also prohibits retaliation by employers whose employees complain of insurance fraud violations.
California's insurance fraud law provides treble damages and additional penalties. Eligible whistleblowers can receive a percentage of the overall amount recovered by the government.
Fraud under the California insurance fraud law includes:
- Falsely inflating the amount of a loss
- Submitting fake bills for services not actually performed
- Paying kickbacks to doctors in exchange for referrals or prescribing certain drugs
- Failing to disclose information that would make the loss ineligible for coverage
Whistleblowers under this law file a sealed complaint in court and provide the complaint to the relevant regulators. Government prosecutors can then choose to intervene and prosecute the case. If they do, the whistleblower usually receives around 30% of the amount recovered. If the government does not intervene, the whistleblower usually keeps between 40 and 50% of the recovery.
Employees in finance and accounting often learn that their employer is committing tax fraud. The federal Tax Relief and Health Care Act provides whistleblower rewards to those who report tax fraud where the amount in dispute exceeds $2 million. The IRS has paid over $500 million in whistleblower rewards under this program.
Medicare whistleblowers usually work in health care and include doctors, nurses, CNS, other nursing home or senior care center staff, hospice workers, billing clerks, pharmaceutical employees, and other healthcare professionals and workers in allied health fields.
Medicare whistleblowers report a variety of illegal conduct, including:
- Billing for services that were never provided
- "Upcoding" or charging for more expensive services instead of the less expensive services that were actually provided
- Prescribing unnecessary services just to bill for them
- Marketing drugs for "off-label" uses by pharmaceutical companies
- Paying kickbacks to doctors and other medical professionals for referring clients or prescribing certain drugs or services
Medicare whistleblowers typically bring claims under the federal False Claims Act, the most successful government whistleblower program of our time. Under the False Claims Act, the government has recovered over $38 billion of taxpayer money that was lost to fraud. Whistleblowers may be entitled to 15-30% of the government's recovery.
Government Contractor Whistleblowers
State and federal agencies dole out billions of dollars of contracts each year based on information submitted in bid proposals by government contractors. These contractors provide services ranging from manufacturing and distributing military equipment and providing food services for military or other government projects to manufacturing and distributing medication under government healthcare programs.
Government contractors defraud the government and taxpayers by doing any of the following:
- Providing substandard services or services other than those contracted for during the bid process
- Failing to disclose illegal bribes during the bidding or contract administration process
- Failing to disclose illegal kickbacks paid to subcontractors or other market participants
- "Padding" bills or charging for more expensive services instead of less expensive services actually rendered
- Submitting false or forged certifications
- Submitting knowingly inflated or false bills for services to the governemnt
- Any other knowingly false or fraudulent practices intended to defraud the government
Whistleblowers are entitled to reinstatement to their position (if they were demoted, suspended, terminated, etc. for whistleblowing), double back pay, interest, compensatory damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. They may also have claims under the False Claims Act and be entitled to a whistleblower reward based on their report of illegal conduct.
Wrongful Termination Claims Due to Whistleblowing
In California, employees who are terminated for complaining about illegal conduct or reporting illegal activity to law enforcement or regulators are protected by multiple laws.
Labor Code § 1102.5 provides that employers cannot retaliate against you for reporting conduct you reasonably believe to be unlawful to others at the company (for instance, for complaining to Human Resources or calling a whistleblower hotline) or to a government agency. Section 1102.5 also prohibits employers from retaliating against you because you refuse to participate in illegal conduct. If you are terminated because you reported illegal conduct internally or to law enforcement, or because you simply refused to participate personally in the illegal conduct.
In addition, people who are terminated for complaining about illegal conduct may have a claim for "wrongful termination in violation of public policy."