Expectations of a Whistleblower

The challenges in handling whistleblower cases start with the fact that a whistleblower is not a typical client with a typical case. The whistleblower expects to be able to report information that they care about deeply and may even have suffered retaliation as a result of reporting the information.

An attorney can be an instrumental part of pursuing a whistleblower action. If you want to pursue a whistleblower case, speak to a qualified whistleblower lawyer who could advocate for you. Read below to learn more about the expectations of a whistleblower.

Motivations for a Whistleblower

A common motivation for most whistleblowers is the feeling of betrayal. Specifically, the feeling of being betrayed by the deceptions of someone in their own organization. Usually, they have learned that the company they were loyal to, or the people they were loyal to, have done things that are wrong. This can make it difficult for whistleblowers to trust any institution and, sometimes, even their own counsel. One of the most important expectations of a whistleblower is that they are attempting to right or rectify that betrayal, and ensure that the defendant faces consequences for their conduct.

Perceptions of Whistleblowers

The act of blowing the whistle is often regarded as heroic as it should be. That does not mean that the whistleblower is necessarily the most heroic person in the world. The False Claims Act’s history bears that out. The original idea of the law was to incentivize what is a heroic act. Blowing the whistle takes courage. It often involves taking on an extremely important and extremely well-funded entity and that poses another challenge.

The legislators who created the first version of the law understood this concept and wanted to incentivize the act of whistleblower. This concept has gotten confused in recent years with people demeaning the act of whistleblower and confusing it with the idea that a whistleblower should be a saint in order to obtain a reward. Blowing the whistle takes courage and it is that action that is supposed to be rewarded under the law.

The general perception of the whistleblower and why they are acting is another major challenge. Society sometimes clings to the idea that a big and well-established organization is doing the right thing. Of course, it is not always true. Sometimes whistleblowers are attacked for being greedy or for being disgruntled, these perceptions may not have much effect on the law or standing of an individual case but, overcoming such perceptions do matter to encourage the act of blowing the whistle.

What Whistleblower Entails

One of the expectations someone might have as a whistleblower is that they will be the underdog in their whistleblower case. The whistleblower is the one that will be taking on forces that have the resources to fight. Most whistleblower reward laws work in a manner that allows a whistleblower to report to the government and attempt to enlist the support of the government in pursuing their claims, whether it is the False Claims Act, which is filed in court and allows the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the whistleblower’s claims, or whether it is a whistleblower reward law like the SEC whistleblower program that allows the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whistleblower claims.

Hopefully, the whistleblower’s claims can be validated and supported by a powerful government agency. That to some degree can level the playing field against the powerful forces that are arrayed against a whistleblower. This creates, though, additional challenges for the whistleblower and for counsel.

Unfortunately, not every whistleblower claim fits into the neat rubric required to pursue a particular law. Whistleblowers and their counsel have to try and figure that out. If there are government funds involved, then the False Claims Act becomes a very attractive option for a whistleblower to use to bring their claims. If there are not any government funds involved, then the whistleblower and counsel must find some other law that might apply to their case.

Retaliation Against Whistleblowers

Of course, a major challenge for any whistleblower is the potential for retaliation from the defendants. Whistleblowers often face retaliation when they simply complain to their bosses about practices that they feel are illegal, wrong or unfair. Unfortunately, the pattern that most whistleblower lawyers see is such a complaint followed by retaliation.

Under the False Claims Act, a case is generally not anonymous, but the case does remain under seal for some time. That seal period affords the whistleblower a chance to file a case and hopefully move onto a new employer. Obviously, if the retaliation has already occurred, whistleblowers can sue under many laws, including the False Claims Act and attempt to get back pay and reinstatement damages. The laws do not provide a perfect shield, but they do provide whistleblowers with the right to sue. Some even provide an opportunity to report with much less exposure. The whistleblower can provide that information to the SEC anonymously, for example. This is a special procedure not provided to every kind of whistleblower and is not an expectation in all cases, but the SEC has taken pains to protect whistleblowers reporting fraud to it.

Rights of a Whistleblower

Learning about what rights a whistleblower has available is the key to dealing with these challenges. Whistleblowers, before they do anything else should, therefore, attempt to contact an attorney. The laws are changing constantly and that provides even more challenges to whistleblowers. Court decisions change the impact of some laws, regulations change and what is true today may not be true tomorrow with respect to whistleblower law.

Another challenge is that while most whistleblower lawyers understand the law as it pertains to a whistleblower, they may not know as much about the particular industry in which a whistleblower acts. Few whistleblower cases involve exactly the same industry or exactly the same types of violations.

Further Challenges

Even within the industries, there may be subsets in which a whistleblower may be a subject matter expert, but which differ completely from another part of that industry. Fulfilling the expectations of a whistleblower depend on their ability to develop a rapport with their counsel, in order to be able to explain exactly why the organization is violating the law.

Whistleblowers while they are attempting to report wrongdoing, may be facing retaliation and they may be angrier about the retaliation or hostile work environment in which they find themselves than the underlying fraud. They may find it difficult to focus or explain the underlying fraud allegations in a manner that can make it understandable to the layman. Dealing with the factual allegations in a manner that makes them easily understood is, of course, another challenge, but one that most whistleblowers want to undertake.

Speaking with the Press

Talking to the press as a whistleblowing relator is complicated. A relator should expect and be sure about their case and rights before speaking with any members of the press. This is because, under certain circumstances, public disclosures can infringe upon a relator’s right to collect a monetary reward, or make it more difficult to file and pursue a case. For instance, both the False Claims Act and the Securities and Exchange Commission enforce public disclosure bars that can be difficult to overcome and which may complicate a case.

While the act of speaking out about misconduct in a public realm may seem appealing to a whistleblower, such an action may limit the whistleblower’s rights. A relator should wait to do so until they have sought the advice of legal counsel and has a firm understanding of the nature of their rights and their case.

Common Myths About Relators

The most common misconception regarding relators are that they are somehow greedy or only motivated by money. In actuality, being a whistleblower is often very difficult, especially when reporting wrongdoing by a big organization. Although some relators do get a reward under some laws, it can still be difficult to stand up and say that your company or your organization is doing something wrong.

These myths typically begin because the whistleblower is an easy target. While it requires a tremendous amount of moral character to stand up and say that your organization is doing something wrong, it can be a lonely position. Additionally, in instances where the case goes to litigation, the defendants may want to attack those who blow the whistle and even the laws that give them those rights.

To some degree, there’s a backlash against the success of some whistleblower laws, the False Claims Act in particular. If the defendant is liable for a lot of money, they may want to make it seem that there’s something wrong with a relator collecting for having done the right thing, or even with the concept of a whistleblower being rewarded at all.

Government Preferences in Relators

Generally speaking, the government looks at all False Claims Act cases for meritorious claims and for ones that they are reasonably sure they can prove. There are other factors that go into this as well, but primarily the government wants to see proof of fraud and whether it can be proven with a reasonable amount of investigation.

Additionally, different kinds of fraud will have different government people looking at them. The government might find a different investigator to investigate fraud committed against the Defense Department as opposed to one committed against Medicare and Medicaid, just because determining what’s going on within a particular industry or area requires a little bit of subject matter expertise. So that is another way that they may treat various cases differently.

Value of an Attorney

An experienced attorney could work with whistleblowers to overcome these types of obstacles and to give whistleblowers an opportunity to use the law, report to government agencies, and use whistleblower rights as they are intended: to correct wrongful activity conducted by organizations that make money without regard to their responsibilities to follow the law and not to cheat or to harm people. One of the expectations of a whistleblower is that they are ultimately trying to fight for justice. If you want to pursue a whistleblower case, contact a seasoned lawyer today.