Can you be fired for being a whistleblower?
Across America, whistleblowers step up to do the right thing and report instances of fraud and abuse. Becoming a whistleblower means protecting the public interest and serving the greater good, even at personal risk. Those who become whistleblowers can help recover stolen taxpayer funds, increase government efficiency, hold bad actors accountable, and earn themselves financial rewards in exchange for their honesty. However, people sometimes hesitate to come forward as a whistleblower due to concerns over the threat of retaliation.
Can you fire a whistleblower, or can you be fired for being a whistleblower? The short answer is no – retaliation against whistleblowers is illegal according to federal and some state laws. However, some employers may seek to retaliate against whistleblowers and hide their intentions by citing other reasons for taking disciplinary actions. If you are worried about being fired for being a whistleblower or are noticing other subtle patterns of cold-shouldering, intimidation, or harassment, speak to a qualified whistleblower attorney today. A qui tam lawyer will be able to assess the situation, inform you of your rights, and ensure that you are pursuing every path possible toward protecting your interests.
Becoming a whistleblower is an important and responsible act. If you have acted toward preserving the truth and protecting taxpayer funds, you have certain rights and privileges according to federal law. Speak to a qui tam lawyer today to understand how we can help hold your employer accountable for retaliating against you after you blew the whistle on fraud.
What is a Whistleblower?
When an employee reports on illegal activity happening within the workplace, they may be considered a whistleblower. The following are just some examples of scenarios that might qualify someone to become a whistleblower:
- The company is committing shareholder fraud, including misrepresenting financial results or risks.
- The company is creating products that are known to be dangerous, faulty, or mislabeled.
- The company is lying on tax returns or otherwise avoiding paying its full share of taxes.
- The company is claiming government funds to which they are not entitled, including by misrepresenting services rendered.
- The company has a government contract and fails to maintain adequate cybersecurity practices.
- The company is receiving or offering kickbacks.
If you have information about any of these kinds of situations, speak to a qui tam lawyer immediately in order to pursue the possibility of a reward, protect against retaliation, and avoid implicating yourself. However, any and all of these scenarios may raise the fear of retaliation in an employee’s mind, leaving them to wonder whether they can be fired for whistleblowing.
Fortunately, a whistleblower in the workplace is entitled to certain protections. For example, many laws and statutes protect a whistleblower’s right to keep their job and receive the same rate of pay after reporting fraud. A qualified qui tam lawyer can help a whistleblower who has experienced retaliation by an employer seek appropriate legal remedies.
What is Retaliation?
Workplace retaliation is not always as blatant as being fired immediately after a protected disclosure. It can also entail many other, sometimes more subtle, methods of discrimination. Workplace retaliation can be best understood as an adverse action taken by an employer against a whistleblower employee. Examples include:
- Firing or laying off
- Harassment or intimidation
- Reduction of hours or pay
- Making threats
- Denying benefits
- Reassignment to a less desirable position
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Threats of reporting an employee to the police or immigration
- Subtle actions like false accusations related to performance, ostracizing and isolating
Can You Be Fired for Reporting Fraud?
Employers may not fire employees for whistleblowing, although this does not always deter them from taking adverse action. There are certain laws in place to protect whistleblowers and even grant them reinstatement, back pay, damages, and attorneys’ fees in the event that they are fired or otherwise retaliated against after a protected disclosure.
Importantly, these laws only protect an employee once the process of whistleblowing has already begun. For this reason, it is imperative to speak to a qui tam lawyer as soon as you have suspicions of fraud or corruption within your company.
Individual states may offer certain kinds of whistleblower protections which extend to state employees who come forward to report fraud. Otherwise, some of the federal laws in place to protect whistleblowers include:
- The False Claims Act: This powerful qui tam law, also known as the Lincoln Law, prohibits firing, harassment, intimidation, or other kinds of retaliation against whistleblowers who report on fraud or false claims made to the government. It also allows whistleblowers, or “qui tam relators,” the opportunity to claim up to 30 percent of the government’s total recoupment in the event of a successful qui tam case.
- The Lloyd-La Follette Act: This early Act protected federal employees who communicate with members of Congress or join unions.
- The SEC Whistleblower Program: This whistleblower rewards program offers complete anonymity when reporting, including protection from mandatory disclosures governed by the Freedom of Information Act requests.
- The Whistleblower Protection Act: This federal law was designed to protect government employees who speak up about fraud within their departments.
What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was passed in order to protect public sector employees who report on “government illegality, waste, and corruption” from retaliation and other adverse consequences. Besides firing, the Whistleblower Protection Act also prohibits demotion, pay decreases, decreases in hours or responsibilities, and other kinds of disciplinary treatment on the basis of reporting fraud.
The Whistleblower Protection Act is still in effect today, although it has been limited in scope by recent Supreme Court rulings to apply mainly to disclosures that are not directly related to an employee’s job. It also may not apply in cases of political donations or tax fraud.
What Should I Do if I Am Fired for Whistleblowing?
While it is illegal to fire a whistleblower, whistleblowers do get fired. If you find yourself discriminated against, harassed, or even fired after speaking up about fraud and corruption, you may be faced with a series of difficult decisions. It is not always immediately clear what kinds of anti-retaliation claims may apply in your case. You may have the option to file a retaliation claim under state law or add a retaliation claim to an ongoing federal qui tam case.
If you have been fired for acting on your legal right to blow the whistle in a case of fraud, there is help available and certain actions you can take. The first step is to talk to an experienced whistleblower lawyer. They will be able to inform you about which statutes apply to your situation. Then, with their help, you can file a retaliation complaint.
If you are worried about the cost of hiring a lawyer to pursue a retaliation claim, know that many law firms are available to take on whistleblower cases on a contingency basis. Some whistleblower protection laws include the cost of attorneys’ fees and court fees in eligible damages. This means that in the event of a successful case, your employer would be ordered to pay for the cost of your lawyer and any filing fees associated with the claim.
What Damages Are Available for Retaliation and Whistleblower Claims?
A fired whistleblower has certain rights and privileges they may be able to pursue, depending on which whistleblower laws apply to their situation. Some examples of compensatory damages for whistleblowers may include:
- Back pay
- Reinstatement or front pay
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
What Evidence Do I Need to Prove Whistleblower Retaliation?
In order to bring a whistleblower retaliation claim, you must be able to demonstrate the following criteria:
- You have reported a false claim to the federal government, brought a qui tam action, or pursued activity related to reporting fraud;
- Your employer was aware of your actions; and
- Your employer retaliated against you as a result of your whistleblowing. This may be as subtle as certain kinds of harassment, or you may have been fired for whistleblowing.
Whistleblowers are eligible for both financial rewards and protections. While some whistleblowers are wrongfully terminated for reporting fraud, there is legal recourse available. Speak to a qualified qui tam lawyer today to understand what options are available if your employer has attempted to retaliate against you for blowing the whistle. You do not have to tolerate intimidation, harassment, or any other attempt to penalize you for doing the right thing.