What to expect as a relator in a whistleblower case will depend on the nature of the individual situation. Generally, a whistleblower should expect that others at work will not be happy with anyone who comes forward. While there is no perfect way to blow the whistle, though, there are legal rights and advantages a whistleblower can obtain with the help of a skilled whistleblower attorney.
For example, if an individual takes action under the False Claims Act, the case will remain under seal, and others will not discover the identity of the relator for a considerable period of time. An action under the SEC whistleblower law can be filed anonymously and that agency has done a lot to protect the identity of whistleblowers, although there is no perfect way to blow the whistle and maintain anonymity.
Whistleblowers should anticipate that the process will involve considerable stress, as any case will likely take some time to come to a resolution. The whistleblower may not be able to discuss the nature of the case with anyone besides their counsel, which is why retaining an experienced and skilled DC attorney can be essential.
Generally, it is important for relators to expect that they may not be treated as they should be. It is often the case that others treat the bearer of bad news poorly. Additionally, it can be difficult for those in positions of authority to be told that what they are doing is wrong, especially if the wrongful conduct is serious. For both of these reasons, whistleblowers are generally not treated with the respect that they deserve.
Given this, it is a good idea for a whistleblower, —or even just a potential whistleblower, —to seek legal advice before taking any action. Such advice can help them know the value of a case and prepare them for the process that lies ahead.
Contrary to much of the hype, whistleblower provisions and policies in the workplace often do not provide anonymity or safety in practice. Blowing the whistle internally can get people fired, as many companies—even those that claim to respect whistleblowers, —do not necessarily protect whistleblowers from within.
The best way to understand how a company will react to a whistleblower is to examine that company’s track record. While some companies abide by their internal policies and provisions, others do not, and it is important for a potential whistleblower to know what to anticipate if they take action.
Reporting an Incident
Where to report an incident depends on the kind of case and agency and/or company involved. Generally, an individual should seek counsel to determine what to report and where to report it.
For a matter regarding federal tax violations, an individual could seek an Internal Revenue Service whistleblower office to report to. For a matter involving securities, a relator would likely report to the Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower office.
For other matters, an individual may be able to file with various government offices, or with the inspector general. Alternatively, they may file a False Claims Act case if the matter involves government money or property, along with a damaged government interest.
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.
Importance of Whistleblowers
The idea that society can survive and progress by relying on government agencies to uncover wrongdoing without any inside information is unrealistic. The most dependable way to identify wrongful conduct is by gaining information from insiders who call attention to misconduct.
Without such individuals, the vast majority of fraudulent behavior would go unnoticed and unchecked. As a result, the companies that engage in fraudulent activity would likely get away with it and enjoy an unfair and illegal competitive advantage, so whistleblowers are important for their contributions.
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.
For more information about what to expect as a relator, call a qualified DC lawyer today.