A “whistleblower” is a person who exposes illegal or unethical conduct. The illegal or unethical conduct can occur in many ways, including:
- Violations of company policy.
- Violations of state or federal law or regulations.
- Conduct by the employer that creates a risk to public safety or health.
If you are an employee who becomes aware your company has done something illegal, dishonest or unethical and you complain internally about the wrongdoing, to your supervisor or some other member of management, or you report the wrongdoing to law enforcement or a governmental agency, you have protections. State and federal laws exist to protect whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. These laws apply to employees who work for private companies as well as employees who work for local, state or the federal government.
Retaliation occurs when an employer, through a manager, supervisor or administrator, mistreats or takes any other type of adverse action against an employee who reports the illegal or unethical conduct. The following are examples of retaliation:
- Fires or terminates the whistleblower.
- Demotes the whistleblower.
- Disciplines the whistleblower.
- Cuts the whistleblowers pay or hours of work.
- Transfers or reassigns the whistleblower to a less favorable job assignment.
- Intimidates, harasses or makes threats directed at the whistleblower or engages in more subtle actions, such as isolating, mocking or falsely accusing the whistleblower of poor performance.
- Denies the whistleblower benefits.
- Blacklisting or intentionally interfering with a whistleblowers ability to obtain future employment.
The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has responsibility for investigating whistleblower complaints under 14 federal whistleblower statutes. In order to seek protection from OSHA, the whistleblower must file an administrative charge alleging retaliation with the agency. The deadline for filing a charge can be as short as 180 days from the date of the retaliatory act. Therefore, people who feel they have been a victim of retaliation should consult with an attorney immediately.
The Law Offices of Jason E Taylor is available to protect employees who have been retaliated against because they have blown the whistle on their employer.False Claims Act Cases
False Claims Act cases are lawsuits filed by whistleblowers to stop fraud against the government. These claims are also referred to using the Latin phrase, qui tam action. An employee who has knowledge or information that her employer is defrauding or stealing money from the government can file a lawsuit against their employer and recover compensation for the fraud on behalf of the government. The False Claims Act also protects employees from retaliation; employees cannot be fired for challenging the misconduct. Companies who are found guilty of having violated the False Claims Act can be required to pay up to three times what the government lost plus penalties. The whistleblower is entitled to a financial reward, a percentage of the recovery, if the lawsuit is successful.
The False Claims Act was enacted in 1863 to fight corruption during the Civil War, when companies were selling the Union Army spoiled food, defective weapons and uniforms that were poorly manufactured. Recent abuses that fall within the scope of the act include a government contractor charging the Air Force $10,000 dollars for a single toilet seat cover to be installed on an Air Force jet.
The false claims covered by the act take many forms, including, overcharging the government for a product; providing the government with a product that is defective; underpaying or refusing to pay the government on a debt, other than taxes; and keeping an overpayment from the government.
The following are examples of the industries where the fraud attacked by the False Claims Act occurs:
- Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry Fraud
- Financial, Banking and Investment Industry Fraud
- Government Contractor Fraud
- Housing and Mortgage Fraud
- Environmental Fraud
- Insurance Fraud
Examples of specific fraudulent acts which can be challenged include
- Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes billing a patient for a service that was never performed and the bill is being paid by Medicaid or Medicare. For example, a nursing home charging for physical therapy to teach a patient how to climb stairs using crutches when in reality the patient is a quadriplegic and cannot walk at all and never received any physical therapy.
- Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes billing a patient for unnecessary procedures and the bill is being paid by Medicaid or Medicare.
- Submitting falsified information to obtain federal loans or grants.
- A government contractor charging the federal government $500.00 for a “hazardous waste disposal unit” when in actuality the unit is a plastic barrel purchased at a hardware store for $20.00.
- Knowingly selling the government products that are defective or substandard. For example, selling out of date food to a cafeteria located at a institution run by the federal government.
A case under the False Claims Act must generally be filed within six years of the false claim or three years after the government knows or should have known about the false claim.
Whistleblowers who bring cases under the False Claims Act must file their Complaints under seal in a United States District Court, and provide a copy of the complaint, as well as a written statement of all material evidence supporting their allegations to the Attorney General of the United States and the local United States Attorney. Because the Complaint is filed under seal, neither the defendants nor the public are aware that a Complaint has been filed. The Complaint remains under seal for 60 days, while the government investigates the whistleblowers allegations. This seal is frequently extended for months or years.
Before the whistleblower’s Complaint becomes public, the government notifies the whistleblower and the Court of whether it will intervene, or become formally involved, in the case. If the government intervenes, it assumes the lead role in litigating the case against the defendant. The whistleblower and his or her attorney remain involved in the case, and often prove to be critical partners to the government’s prosecution of the case.
The Law Offices of Jason E Taylor is available to help employees who feel they have information that would support the filing of a False Claims Act case.