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What Is A Whistleblower?

What Is a Whistleblower - Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto LLP

A whistleblower (or whistle-blower) is commonly defined as someone who witnesses fraud, corruption, waste or abuse within a private or public organization and reports the crimes to law enforcement or other proper authorities. A whistleblower brings forth information of wrongdoing that would not have otherwise been known. There is no uniform definition of a whistleblower. However, the definition commonly used includes the following:

A whistleblower (or whistle-blower) is someone:

Who participates in official whistleblower reward programs, such as those under the Dodd-Frank Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Commodity Exchange Act, qui tam, and IRS tax law.

What is the Meaning of Whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is when an individual or group of individuals, known as whistleblowers, report crimes they have witnessed first hand or have obtained knowledge of. 

Modern whistleblower laws allow for individuals to file a claim and receive a share of the amount the government collects from the fraud. Whistleblowing can be dangerous and should not be taken lightly. Most programs allow for whistleblowers to file claims anonymously in order to protect themselves from retaliation or threats.

Who Qualifies as a Whistleblower?

Whistleblowers can range from those who report white-collar crimes on Wall Street to deckhands aboard fishing vessels exposing illegal fishing tactics.

Both private and federal employees can qualify as whistleblowers, as long as the information they have is original and meets the filing requirements of the laws being used.

The actions taken by whistleblowers often sparks crucial change in legislation and corporate culture.

When Sherron Watkins witnessed massive accounting fraud at Enron in the early 2000s, she made the decision to blow the whistle, the results changing corporate America forever.
Watkins’ whistleblowing led to the passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, which protects corporate whistleblowers who report securities fraud from retaliation. The Dodd-Frank Act, enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis, offers monetary awards for whistleblowers who report financial fraud and securities violations to the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Each law contains its own definition of who qualifies as a whistleblower.

Watkins was named a Time Person of the Year in 2002 for her role in exposing the Enron scandal.

Are Whistleblowers Protected by Law?

The United States has over 50 separate whistleblower laws, each different in scope and authority. Many whistleblower laws include a retaliation provision, which protects whistleblowers from adverse actions such as wrongful termination, harassment, and punitive actions.

The oldest and most effective whistleblower law, which covers both federal and private employees, is the False Claims Act.

The False Claims Act defines a “whistleblower” as a “relator,” and covers anyone who provides the government with information on frauds against the government by filing a Qui Tam lawsuit.

Today the law covers numerous areas, including Medicare fraud, healthcare fraud, military procurement fraud, customs and lease violations, and all other federal government programs. The law is designed to incentivize “insiders” with information on frauds to come forward. These “insiders” are covered even if they participated in illegal conduct.

Most states have enacted their own version of the False Claims Act.

In order to qualify for whistleblower rewards, your disclosures must meet the definition of “original information” as defined under each law.

There are many other federal and state laws that offer whistleblower protection depending on the subject matter of the disclosure and the status of the employee or person who is reporting misconduct.

Who does a Whistleblower Report to?

There are several paths a whistleblower can take when reporting crimes, and it is important for whistleblowers to know their rights in order to protect themselves and avoid retaliation.

Many organizations and agencies have whistleblower offices that offer anonymous reporting channels and financial rewards.

When blowing the whistle, it is best practice to avoid internal compliance programs and reporting channels. In many cases, companies attempt to cover up any fraud that was committed by forcing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) on whistleblowers

Protections are different for federal and private employees. While corporate whistleblower laws such as the Dodd Frank Act allow for whistleblowers to file for awards anonymously, many laws still lack confidential filing provisions.

It is safest to contact an experienced whistleblower attorney who knows the laws inside and out. This way, the whistleblower’s identity will be protected and they will obtain the financial compensation they deserve.

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Frequently Asked Questions

A whistleblower is a person who witnesses fraud, corruption, waste or abuse within a private or public organization and reports the crimes to law enforcement or other authorities. A whistleblower (whistle-blower) brings forth information of wrongdoing that would not have otherwise been known.

Across almost all whistleblower laws, an individual qualifies as a whistleblower if they bring specific, credible, and timely information to the government, media, or appropriate regulatory agencies, and those said entities take enforcement or public action on the information provided.

Those who decide to become whistleblowers are protected against retaliation when engaging in a “protected disclosure.” In other words, it is illegal for the government or any employer to retaliate against a whistleblower if they are reporting a violation of certain US laws. Regardless, those who would like to report violations and become a whistleblower should do so quietly without anyone knowing.