According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a whistleblower is a person who reports information which he or she believes evidences any of the following:
- A violation of any law, rule, or regulation
- Gross mismanagement
- A gross waste of funds
- An abuse of authority
- A substantial and specific danger to public health
- A substantial and specific danger to public safety
Legislation to protect whistle blowers was initially enacted in the late-1970’s during the civil rights movement. In 2002, federal legislation extended whistle blower protection to employees in publicly traded companies.
Courts are most likely to protect whistle blowers when reports of misconduct have been made to a government agency. Oftentimes, when internal reports are made within a company, the employee’s activities will not be considered “protected conduct.” It is advisable to encourage all employees to report any problems promptly to a supervisor so that the company can deal with the issue internally, before whistle blowing to a government agency becomes necessary.
The attitude toward whistle blowers has changed to the point where the employee may be able to reap the benefits of a government law suit in a False Claims Act action. These are called qui tam actions brought by the government against the company. The employee who witnesses a “false claim” by his or her employer will bring forward evidence to the United States Attorneys. If they decide to go ahead with the action, the whistle blower will be entitled to collect a percentage of the damage against the company won during litigation. This provides an incentive for whistle blowers to come forward after they have consulted with supervisors, and the supervisors have taken no action.
If you are an employee in a difficult position and need guidance, please contact an employment law attorney. If you are an employer who needs advice about a better oversight system please do the same.
Image credit: Steven Depolo