Becoming a whistleblower is one of the hardest decisions a person can make. Whistleblowers are often employees of a company that has committed fraud, and they may fear retaliation for shining a light on their employer’s misbehavior. Fortunately, the False Claims Act (FCA) and its state counterparts prohibit anyone from retaliating against an employee for reporting fraud against the government.
Who is protected?
The FCA extends whistleblower protections to an employee, contractor, or agent. In other words, it is not necessary to have a formal employer-employee relationship. An employer may not retaliate against independent contractors or any others performing work for the employer.
What actions are protected?
The FCA protects a broad spectrum of activity. If a worker reasonably believes his or her employer is committing a violation of the FCA, and takes steps to prevent or stop that violation, he or she is protected. Courts have found the following actions to constitute protected activity:
- Filing a complaint under the FCA
- Alerting supervisors to fraud and attempting to stop fraudulent activity
- Participating in and contributing to an investigation of fraud
- Reporting fraud to government employees
However, there is no single definition of protected activity, and whether a whistleblower is protected under the FCA depends on the circumstances of each case. If you believe your employer is violating the FCA, it is crucial to contact an experienced whistleblower attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.
What is my employer prohibited from doing?
An employer may not discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate in any manner against a worker because the worker has engaged in protected activity under the FCA. Prohibited actions include:
- Firing or laying off
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denying benefits
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Intimidation or harassment
- Making threats
- Reassigning to a less desirable position
- Reducing pay or hours
- Isolating, ostracizing, mocking
What happens if I’m retaliated against?
Whistleblowers who are unlawfully retaliated against under the FCA are entitled to reinstatement with the same seniority status the worker would have had but for the retaliation, double back pay plus interest, and compensation for any special damages, which may include emotional distress or medical bills related to the retaliation.
If you believe your employer is committing fraud against the government, it is crucial to consult with an experienced whistleblower attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help explain your rights.
If you have already been retaliated against by your employer, it is important to maintain as much documentation as possible. An attorney can help you draft and file a lawsuit against your employer. This can be part of a whistleblower lawsuit alleging fraud, but it can also form the basis of an independent lawsuit.
Is a whistleblower allowed to use confidential documents or trade secrets?
A whistleblower who is a current employee of a company committing fraud against the government often has an opportunity to gather documents and information that may help establish proof of the employer’s wrongdoing. However, by taking documents or information, the whistleblower might expose himself or herself to termination or accusations of theft of trade secrets.
Generally, whistleblowers are allowed to use documents they ordinarily have access to or find inadvertently. However, whistleblowers should be extremely careful about accessing documents to which they do not ordinarily have access, or documents that are subject to a confidentiality agreement.
In addition, whistleblowers should be careful not to take any documents or information unrelated to the fraud. Before taking any documents or information from your employer or another non-public source, it is important to speak to an experienced whistleblower attorney who can evaluate your particular circumstances and help make sure you follow the law. If you have already taken documents or information, an experienced whistleblower attorney can advise you how to proceed.
With more than 30 years of experience, the attorneys on Baron & Budd’s whistleblower representation team have represented dozens of clients in government fraud cases returning over $5.4 billion to federal and state agencies, with whistleblower recovery shares as high as 49%. They are ready to help if your employer has retaliated against you for reporting fraud against the government.
Please call (866) 401-5971 or complete our contact form if you would like more information. For more information, see What You Need to Know About Becoming a Whistleblower. Please understand that contacting us does not mean that you have established an attorney-client relationship with Baron & Budd, P.C.