As a result, the decision to “blow the whistle” on your employer, especially if it is a large company, can be intimidating and difficult. Because employees have access to more information than the public or governmental regulators – especially when that information involves a company’s legal or regulatory violations – employees are often the only people who can start the process of holding companies accountable. Without whistleblowers, the government would never discover many companies’ legal and regulatory violations.
A whistleblower may face retaliation from their employer, including harassment, negative performance reviews, and termination. If you decide to become a whistleblower against your employer or another company affiliated with your business, you need the assistance of an experienced Nashville employment attorney who can help you through the process of blowing the whistle on legal violations, including taking advantage of the protections under state and federal law for whistleblowers, and ensuring that companies do not get away with breaking the law.
In certain situations, whistleblowers may be entitled to claim significant compensation for their efforts.
A Nashville employment lawyer from the Employment and Consumer Law Group can protect your rights when you call us today or reach out to us online to schedule a 100% confidential consultation to discuss your situation.
How Do Federal Whistleblower Laws Protect Employees?
There are several federal statutes that provide protections for employees who make whistleblower claims, including:
- False Claims Act – Also known as the “Lincoln Law,” the FCA imposes liability on persons and companies who defraud governmental programs. In the context of whistleblowers, the FCA includes a provision that allows private individuals to file what is called a “qui tam” action as a “relator.” When a relator is employed by the organization accused in a qui tam FCA action, it is typically characterized as a whistleblower action. Relators are entitled to receive 15 to 30 percent of any damages recovered in a qui tam action along with payment of the relator’s attorneys’ fees and legal costs. The FCA also provides employment protection for whistleblowers who are terminated after filing a qui tam action, such as reinstatement with seniority status, special damages, and double damages for backpay.
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act – Popularly called “SOX,” this act allows employees of publicly traded companies to report fraud. Section 806 of the act provides whistleblower protections by prohibiting any “officer, employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent” of a publicly traded company from retaliating against an employee who disclosed reasonably perceived or actual violations of protected conduct (securities fraud, shareholder fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, or violations of SEC rules). Retaliatory actions prohibited by Section 806 of SOX include termination, demotion, suspension, threatening, harassing, discriminating, and even disclosing the identity of a whistleblower. Section 806 includes remedies for whistleblowers, such as reinstatement with seniority, back pay with interest, and special damages such as attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
- Dodd-Frank Act – Passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis which overhauled federal financial regulations, this act establishes a “whistleblower bounty program” based on the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The program provides rewards of 10 to 30 percent of any recovery of an SEC enforcement action that results in more than $1 million in sanctions. The act also states that employers cannot terminate, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate against individuals who provide information, and allows for awards of reinstatement, back pay, and special damages. The act also allows whistleblowers to report their claims anonymously, provided they are represented by legal counsel.
Tennessee state law also enables employees to bring a qui tam action for violation of Tennessee criminal or civil codes or federal laws or to report actions that threaten public health, safety, or welfare. The state law prohibits an employer from terminating an employee who refuses to remain silent about illegal activities and provides a terminated employee with a cause of action for retaliatory discharge, which can result in compensation for the employee’s damages and attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
Common Types of Whistleblower Claims
Most whistleblower claims involve a violation of state or federal law or an effort to defraud the state or federal government of goods, services, or resources. Some of the most common kinds of whistleblower claims brought by employee claimants include:
- Healthcare fraud – Healthcare-related claims are by far the most common kind of whistleblower claims. These claims often allege that healthcare providers are billing Medicare and Medicaid for inappropriate or unnecessary tests or procedures, using billing codes for more expensive tests and procedures, and prescribing certain medications in exchange for kickbacks.
- Defense contracts – Defense contractors sometimes engage in defrauding of the government, including rigging bids, falsifying invoices, supplying defective equipment, and failing to provide required certified costs.
- Tax fraud – Whistleblowers often report businesses filing fraudulent tax returns or failing to file returns at all.
- Securities fraud – With the SEC maintaining a whistleblower award program, whistleblowers have been increasingly reporting incidents of violations of corporate disclosure requirements, fraud in offering documents, and manipulation of stock prices and markets.
- Oil leases – Oil companies may fraudulently withhold full payment of royalties due under federal off-shore and right-of-way oil leases.
- Government procurement fraud – Suppliers of goods and services to government agencies may engage in fraud by charging more than the agreed upon amount for such goods and services or supplying relabeled products procured in non-trade agreement countries or providing products that don’t conform to the requirements of the government’s RFP.
- Educational grant fraud – Educators and schools may engage in fraud with respect to government grants by overstating the hours worked on grant-funded projects or by obtaining federal funding by overstating graduation and job placement rates.
If you are aware of any of the above types of fraud, you have the right to report your employer without fearing retaliation.
Steps in a Whistleblower Lawsuit
In order to have a successful whistleblower claim, a claimant should follow several steps to ensure that their claim is not dismissed by the courts at some point along the way, including:
- Confirm the claim – Before pursuing a whistleblower lawsuit, you should first confirm that there is some fraudulent activity or activity that violates state or federal laws or regulations. Since most whistleblower statutes only cover activity done against the government, if your claim only involves fraud or another civil tort against a private entity, it won’t qualify under whistleblower statutes.
- Collect evidence – Under some whistleblower statutes, the whistleblower must prove that they had personal knowledge of the claim (especially knowledge that predates and adds information to already public information). You will likely need evidence to prove your claim and your knowledge of it.
- Retain an experienced whistleblower attorney – If you decide to pursue your whistleblower claim, it is crucial to retain legal representation who can advise you as to whether you have a viable whistleblower claim and help you file a persuasive legal claim that will result in a successful recovery of maximum compensation.
- File a whistleblower lawsuit – Depending on the type of claim, you may be eligible to file a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government. In these cases, the offending organization is not initially alerted of the suit. Instead, the government has the opportunity to investigate your claim.
- Cooperate with the government investigation – Once you file a whistleblower lawsuit, the government may have the opportunity to intervene and take over the claim, since the government is the wronged party. Even if the government decides to take over prosecution of the claim, full cooperation is the best opportunity for a successful claim that may result in an award for the whistleblower.
A lawyer from the Employment and Consumer Law Group can work with you to successfully complete all of these steps.
Compensation for Whistleblowers
Different forms of compensation are available for whistleblowers who make claims under various whistleblower statutes. Under most statutes, whistleblowers are entitled to a percentage of the damages recovered from the wrongdoer organization. These damages may be a multiplied amount of the damages actually suffered by the government or the public.
When a whistleblower is subjected to adverse employment actions by their employer for making a whistleblower claim, the whistleblower may be entitled to other compensation for the employer’s wrongful adverse employment actions. This may include reinstatement of the whistleblower’s employment if the whistleblower was terminated, along with all seniority the whistleblower would have earned if not terminated. The whistleblower may also receive back pay from the date of termination, sometimes with interest or double damages.
Finally, the whistleblower may also receive compensation for their attorneys’ fees and legal costs, either incurred to prosecute their original whistleblower action or incurred to defend against an employer’s wrongful retaliation.
How a Nashville Whistleblower Attorney Can Help
If you are considering making a whistleblower claim, you should move quickly. Someone else may decide to file a claim first, which means that you miss out on a potentially lucrative award. There are also deadlines to follow when making a whistleblower claim. Failure to adhere to those deadlines could result in the loss of your claim.
A Nashville whistleblower attorney can help you if you decide whether to file a whistleblower claim. The dedicated and experienced legal team of The Employment and Consumer Law Group can review your claim to determine whether you may be legally entitled to report and pursue a whistleblower claim. Having an attorney may mean that you can make your claim anonymously, thereby protecting your career and livelihood.
If you are harassed or retaliated against for your claim, our knowledgeable legal team can pursue the compensation you may be entitled to for your employer’s wrongful retaliation, including reinstatement to your position, back pay, and other damages.
If you feel that you need to report your employer’s or another organization’s wrongful conduct, don’t wait another day to speak with an experienced whistleblower attorney. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to learn more about your rights and options.