What is a whistleblower? A whistleblower is an employee who does the right thing, stands up and in good faith lets management, a government agency or the press know that something unethical or illegal may be going on. Hopefully in most instances good things happen as a result. Perhaps the person didn't know the whole picture, misunderstood something or management changed its course to be more ethical or comply with the law.
Lawyers get involved when bad things happen to the employee. There was some form of retaliation, whether or not the employer (which can be a government agency or private employer) changed its actions. There are many state and federal statutes that cover whistleblowers depending on the area of law at issue. Some of the situations can include illegal or unethical practices relating to,
● Bribery or kickbacks
● Workplace safety
● Wage and hour issues
● Tax evasion
● Securities fraud
● Illegal pollution.
The subject matter is only limited by the illegal or unethical acts that could be occurring in a workplace.
Though there are many laws covering whistleblower protection, generally they require that the employee not suffer retaliation due to his or her activities. The goal of these laws is to encourage people to report wrongdoing so it may be corrected, investigated and potentially so that there may be civil or criminal legal action against those responsible. If the whistleblower is fired a wrongful termination a lawsuit could be filed against the former employer.
Depending on the circumstances if there is fraud against a government entity the whistleblower may be able to file a legal action, essentially acting as a government agency, to enforce the law and possibly collect damages (known as a "qui tam" action). Relevant government entities must be put on notice of these legal claims and they have the option of becoming a party to the lawsuit or not. If they do the upside then the government and private attorneys can share the workload. But a potential downside is the financial recovery for the individual would decrease.
Whistleblower claims can be complex factually and legally. If you're planning on making your voice heard on an issue and fear potential consequences, it's important you call our office so you can learn more about the law and what you need to do in order to enjoy its protection. If you've already blown the whistle and are being retaliated against you should also contact us so we can talk about your situation, how the law may be applied, what you can do to protect your rights and how we can help.