What Potential Whistleblowers Need to Know Before Exposing an Employer’s Illegal Conduct

February 22nd, 2024

“We’re all familiar with that ubiquitous mantra, “If you see something, say something.” We usually hear that in the context of reporting suspicious or criminal activity in public – an unattended package left in a subway station, a person menacing or threatening others, or similar potential dangers.

But when employees discover their employers’ potentially dubious, unethical or illegal conduct, there’s no 911 to call and no nearby police officer to flag down. Instead, those brave individuals who see something wrong at work and feel compelled to report and expose such misconduct – whistleblowers – face complicated choices and put themselves, their careers and their reputations at risk.

That’s why it’s critical for potential whistleblowers to act thoughtfully, carefully and deliberately before calling out their employers’ illegal activities. Doing so may optimize the possibility that the employer will change its conduct, but it may also be necessary to protect the whistleblower from the blowback that may come from their employers. Care also must be taken to preserve their right to recover
compensation under any applicable federal or state law that rewards whistleblowers.

If you’re aware of illegal or wrongful conduct by your employer and are considering blowing the whistle, the most important thing you can do is meet with an experienced whistleblower attorney before doing so. A lawyer can inform you of your rights, advise you of actions to take, protect you from retaliation and, in some instances, put you in a position to reap financial rewards for doing the right thing.

What Type of Conduct Do Whistleblowers Report?

A wide range of corporate activities can be the subject of a whistleblower claim. That’s partly because many laws and regulations govern the conduct of businesses in every sector of the economy. Consequently, companies can violate the law in countless ways.

Violations of an expansive range of laws and regulations can be the subject of a whistleblower claim, including:

  • Employment discrimination
  • Violations of health and safety laws
  • Government contracting and procurement fraud, including cybersecurity fraud
  • Defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and related health care programs, including seeking reimbursement for unnecessary or unperformed procedures or improper medical coding and billing
  • Healthcare misconduct involving violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law (also called the “physician self-referral law”)
  • Financial, securities, and investment fraud
  • Tax fraud and evasion
  • Bank fraud
  • Customs fraud
  • Environmental and wildlife violations

Steps to Take When You Discover Illegal Conduct

As noted, contacting a whistleblower lawyer as soon as possible after you discover and before you report illegal conduct is a wise first step. Here are other steps you should consider taking:

Gather Evidence

If you’ve learned about illegal or wrongful conduct by your employer, it’s likely because of something you saw, read or heard at work. This is the evidence you’ll need to show authorities to support your assertions, and it’s the evidence they’ll use to take action against your employer that could lead to
money in your pocket.

Preserve emails, documents, photographs or other materials that reflect or reveal the wrongdoing. Take notes of any conversations or incidents that relate to the conduct. It’s important to do so discreetly, not on work time or on work devices, and in a manner that doesn’t raise suspicion, violate company policies or run afoul of the law. For example, you should only save documents to which you have access in the normal course of your work responsibilities. Your lawyer can advise you on how best to collect and preserve evidence.

Follow Internal Reporting Procedures

Many companies and organizations have established policies, procedures and mechanisms through which employees can raise their concerns about their employers’ conduct. This may involve reporting to your immediate supervisor, the human resources department, or a designated ethics hotline or inbox. Ensure you maintain a record of all communications and actions taken.

Look for and Document Retaliation

In a perfect world, reporting illegal conduct through internal channels will result in your employer taking action to address the issue, including stopping the misconduct and holding wrongdoers accountable. But it’s not a perfect world. Employers often have less-charitable responses to a complaining or whistleblowing employee, and supervisors or other employees implicated in the misconduct can react viscerally to accusations made against them. An employer may engage in retaliation against you for your actions. This can take many forms beyond termination or demotion and can include receiving less-desirable assignments; being excluded from projects or meetings; receiving negative performance reviews; suffering harassment or abuse; and being placed on an unfair performance improvement plan.

Employer retaliation against whistleblowers is illegal under many circumstances, and employees subject to retaliation may have claims for compensation against their employers. Document instances of retaliation or any negative changes in your employment situation and share that information with your attorney.

Work With Your Attorney to Report Misconduct to the Proper Authorities

When your attorney believes the time is right, he or she can help you report your employer’s illegal acts to the appropriate authorities. Many different whistleblower laws and programs apply to specific types of activities and industries. Your lawyer will know where to submit your information and how to do so in a way that makes you eligible to potentially recover a percentage of any amounts the government recoups from your employer, based on the information you provided. These rewards can be substantial. In fiscal year 2022 alone, whistleblowers who reported illegal activity under the False Claims Act (FCA) received $488 million. The FCA is only one of the many laws and programs through which whistleblowers can obtain compensation for their brave acts.

If you’re aware of or suspect illegal conduct by your employer or individuals at your company and are ready to share what you know, the whistleblower attorneys at Halunen Law stand ready to support you. We’ve recovered millions of dollars in compensation for individuals who had the courage to do the right thing. Our whistleblower lawyers can answer your questions and help determine if you have grounds to pursue a claim. Contact our firm at 612-605-4098 or submit this contact form online to get started. Our intake team will review your situation and, if appropriate, refer you to an attorney for a confidential consultation. There is no cost to you unless we win. We look forward to assisting you.

Susan (1)
A Partner at Halunen Law, Susan Coler represents whistleblowers who challenge illegal corporate conduct, particularly fraud against the government. As an MSBA Labor and Employment Law Specialist, Susan has also brought successful retaliation claims in connection with FCA/qui tam cases and as stand-alone actions. Susan has consistently been named a “Super Lawyer” since 2008 and has been named several times on the Super Lawyer’s list of Top 50 Women Attorneys in Minnesota.

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