Civic responsibility is about doing one’s part to preserve a fair and democratic system for the benefit of all citizens. A belief bolstered by Benjamin Franklin when he became one of the earliest whistleblowers in America. A belief that has shaped statute and helped to safeguard those who carry out their duty to expose wrongdoing for the sake of public welfare.
Over the years, Congress has passed and strengthened laws to provide safe and confidential routes to report misconduct and fraudulent activity. A multitude of whistleblower programs have enabled people to step forward with tips on breaches of securities laws, tax fraud and evasion, and abuse of government contracts. All aimed at facilitating a smooth and secure process, especially when it comes to the issue of whistleblowers in the workplace.
The office is a mix of people, personalities, and policies which create a unique environment. Over 100 million people make up the permanent workforce in the United States and for those individuals, a large portion of the day is spent at work—a place sometimes referred to as a “second home”. Hence, organizations have sought to establish internal controls to manage staff and have put a lot of emphasis on compliance, but that requirement goes both ways.
If an employer is involved in fraud, an employee should report that involvement. Of course, divulging information is no easy task. There are several things to consider before blowing the whistle, chief among them is job security. Plus, tales of retribution should not be taken lightly. Retaliatory action can be in the form of termination, intimidation, and demotion. And news headlines have shown how real the situation can be. In 2014, a former J.C. Penney worker claimed to have been fired for speaking up about contentious tactics used by the department store wherein prices were radically increased just before items went “on sale”. An old marketing strategy that can violate Federal Trade Commission regulations. But for every one of those stories, there are cases like Wells Fargo, where employees were reinstated and as much as $5.4 million was paid in a wrongful termination settlement.
Recognizing the areas of concern, anti-retaliation laws and whistleblower statutes have been crafted to shield brave men and women from employers who might wish to silence or stop them from reporting. Section 3730(h) of the False Claims Act offers relief for an employee who has been unlawfully dismissed or treated in the advancement of a claim under the Act. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program administers the protection provisions of dozens of whistleblower laws. Legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act has reinforced rights by allowing an employee to file a lawsuit in federal court against an employer, entitling the individual to various remedies, for example, back wages, attorney fees and general damages. It should be mentioned, however, that some ambiguity exists over whether the Dodd-Frank Act covers employees who report violations only to their employers and not to the SEC.
Retaliation claims can be intricate and may differ by state, therefore it is advisable to consult an attorney who will not only help to navigate the legal complexities but will also be knowledgeable on how to proceed in filing specific matters. Various government agencies are constantly laboring to ensure whistleblowers are as protected as they are instrumental in the war against fraud.
To learn more about your rights as a whistleblower, contact Newman & Shapiro today!