The United States has led the way in protecting whistleblowers, starting with the Continental Congress, which was America’s governing body during the Revolutionary War for Independence. The Continental Congress passed the first whistleblower law in 1778 in response to the prosecution of naval officers for reporting misconduct by their commanding officer. The first publication of the full history behind this original law was in The Whistleblower’s Handbook. See “The Final Rule,” starting on page 327 of The New Whistleblower’s Handbook.
After the enactment of the 1778 law, the next important whistleblower law enacted in the United States was the False Claims Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln during the height of the U.S. Civil War in 1863.
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.
Other scandals, such as the Enron collapse in 2001, 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.
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.