Arguably the biggest example of a whistleblower in recent memory is that of Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who exposed the government’s questionable data collection habits. If you have reason to believe that your employer is doing any of the following, you may feel obligated to report them to the appropriate authorities:
- Breaking the law
- Violating government and / or industry rules or regulations
- Making decisions that endanger public health and safety
- Gross waste of funds
- Gross mismanagement
- Abuse of authority
- Censoring information that could cause any of the above
Reporting a person, business, or organization that is engaging in illicit activity is known as whistleblowing. 31 U.S.C. Sections 3729 through 3733, also known as the False Claims Act, has one of strongest protection provisions in the country for whistleblowers. Qui tam allows individuals or entities to bring civil lawsuits against federal programs or contracts on behalf of the government. If their case recovers misappropriated funds, the whistleblower is rewarded.
Many people hesitate to report violations because they fear job loss, blacklisting, and other types of “payback,” but there are several laws in place (both state and federal) that protect you from retaliation by your employer if you speak up. Here are four things you need to know about whistleblower protections and how they can apply to your particular situation.
- Protection Can Apply Earlier Than You Think
You may be protected under the False Claims Act as soon as management believes that you could be a witness in a future legal proceeding. If you refuse to carry out illegal requests, contact the media, file a grievance, or express any other intention of enforcing the law, protection may apply.
- Retaliating Against You is Illegal
The False Claims Act makes it illegal for your employer to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against you for whistleblowing. If they engage in such conduct, you can sue for relief such as:
- Job reinstatement
- Double back pay
- Litigation costs
- Reasonable attorneys’ fees
- Other special damages the court may deem appropriate
- State-Specific False Claims Acts May Provide Added Protection
An increasing number of states have enacted their own version of the federal False Claims Act. The scope of protected activity varies from one state to the next. In Missouri, state agencies cannot retaliate against employees for disclosing alleged illegal or prohibited activity. The employee must, however, reasonably believe that a violation exists. Protections do not apply if they wilfully or recklessly make false accusations.
- Your Conduct Must Be Defensible
You can lose the protection of the law if your behavior becomes indefensible. For example, if your manager confronts you over your whistleblowing and you use physical force or swear at them, such conduct may get you fired, and you will have no legal recourse.
You should not be forced to choose between keeping your job and doing the right thing. For more information about your rights as a whistleblower, contact the attorneys at Bell Law. We will review your situation and advise you on how to use your information to benefit the public while receiving the protection that the law provides.