In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom, regulators have placed a greater emphasis on incentivizing employees to report instances of corporate misconduct.  As a result, there has been a significant increase in whistleblower programs across industries intended to protect and reward employees who come forward with information about unlawful activities. In many cases, these individuals are operating under some degree of risk.  Therefore, there has been growing interest in how the law can help support and protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

 

What is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is anyone who has and reports insider knowledge of illegal activities occurring in an organization. Whistleblowers can be employees, suppliers, contractors, clients, or any individual who becomes aware of illegal business activities.​ A person may also be considered a whistleblower if they report misconduct committed by an auditing firm or law firm.  Employee whistleblowers are often protected by the law, and many organizations have implemented policies to encourage them to report misconduct. It is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to encouraging whistleblowing. Whistleblower protections vary based on the type of misconduct reported and the number of individuals involved. You should speak to an experienced whistleblower attorney like a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 if you are thinking of blowing the whistle.

 

Why is protection for whistleblowers important?

The importance of having protections for whistleblowers cannot be overstated.  Whistleblowers play a critical role in holding businesses and industries accountable and they also protect taxpayer dollars.  Blowing the whistle on fraud or any other illegal activity that goes against the public interest benefits the government and its people. That is why the U.S. government offers incentives and protections to those who share credible information with them, and why greater emphasis is being placed on whistleblower programs and need to protect those individuals willing to come forward and expose fraud being committed against the government.  Encouraging employees to report instances of misconduct ultimately benefits consumers and shareholders alike. Investors can expect greater transparency from corporations and a risk reduction. Similarly, customers can expect higher standards of corporate behavior.

 

How can the law help protect whistleblowers?

Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers in many cases. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects employees who report financial misconduct at publicly traded companies. Likewise, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act protects employees who report misconduct against companies in the financial industry. The False Claims Act protects whistleblowers who report fraud against the government. Many employees mistakenly believe that they are protected by company policy alone. This is not the case. On the contrary, employers often can terminate or otherwise retaliate against employees who report misconduct.  Therefore, the law needs to continue to 9evolve and protect whistleblowers from the harmful effects of retaliation.

 

Conclusion

The growth in whistleblower programs has led to an increase in the importance of protecting whistleblowers. This is especially true in light of the global financial crisis, during which many companies engaged in fraud or misconduct. If you know or have evidence that your employer is acting illegally or unethically and you are thinking of blowing the whistle, call an experienced whistleblower attorney.  A whistleblower attorney can explain the entire process and give you their opinion of the merits of your case.

By Haadi