The act of whistleblowing encourages a culture of accountability, honesty, and openness. Whistleblowing allows a company to operate in an environment that enables justice and transparency. Overall, the workplace becomes a protected and safe environment for all members of the company/organization to work in.
Most people are afraid to blow the whistle for fear of retaliation. Whistleblowing policies and provisions protect a current or former employee and applicants that report illegal conduct from any labor organization, employer, or employment agency.
If you’re thinking of blowing the whistle on a particular organization, it’s important to understand the steps so that all your bases are covered. We’ll review the basics of whistleblowing and give you a step-by-step guide on how to file for a whistleblower claim.
What Is Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is the act of reporting wrongful doings within an organization like corruption, sexual harassment, or fraud to a higher authority. Often, the whistleblower is connected to the organization either as an employee, a customer, or a supplier.
You can become a whistleblower if you observe actions that are not in line with the company’s code of conduct or illegal. The whole process of exposing an organization or an individual is risky, and it’s therefore crucial to find an experienced whistleblower lawyer who can protect your interests if the need arises.
What Is a Whistleblower Claim?
A whistleblower claim is a formal complaint or submission that describes illegal activities or types of misconduct, fraud, or abuse. The whistleblowing claim depends on the case presented. If the whistleblowing claim is applicable under the whistleblower reward program, you may have a chance to pursue the case.
How to File a Whistleblower Claim
Anyone with hard evidence of misconduct, illegal activities, or fraud can file a whistleblowing complaint. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there is a time limit for filing a complaint. The time limit varies from 30 days to 180 days depending on the department you’re filing against.
The whistleblowing process is as follows:
1. Verify the Validity of the Claim
There’s a substantial difference between being a witness to a crime and thinking you witnessed a crime. Before you take the first step in blowing the whistle on any organization, fact-check your information. You have to be certain that what you saw or heard is accurate and not hearsay or third-party information.
There are huge rewards associated with whistleblowing. As such, people can take advantage in order to further their personal interests. According to the Minnesota False Claims Act, a whistleblower found to be lying is eligible for criminal prosecution.
2. Collect Irrefutable Evidence
To have a valid whistleblower case, you must provide sufficient evidence. Otherwise, your claim may be dismissed as rumors and you may be prosecuted for defamation. You must have primary knowledge of the events that took place and be willing to provide either physical evidence or witness testimony to the said events.
Collecting evidence may be a challenge and might put you at risk of termination. However, consulting an experienced whistleblower lawyer will help you figure out the most suitable way to collect evidence with minimal risk.
3. Hire a Qualified Whistleblower Lawyer
If you have proof that a company is engaging in illegal activities and you are confident in pursuing a whistleblower lawsuit, it’s advisable to seek the services of experienced attorneys. The attorney will help you to prepare and file a persuasive claim.
In addition, the attorney can tell you if the evidence you have is enough to qualify you as a whistleblower under the law.
4. File Your Whistleblower Complaint
After meeting with the relevant government authorities, a qui tam lawsuit is filed within the federal district court. The lawsuit is filed under seal, meaning the company involved won’t be alerted and the government is served with the complaint instead.
The government has 60 days to investigate the claims under the false claim act before serving the complaint to the accused company. However, the period can be lengthened by asking for extended periods from the court. In most cases, the cases can take years to be fully investigated.
5. Assist With the Investigation
After filing the complaint, the government will investigate the case and decide on whether or not they’ll intervene. Notably, the chances of recovery are improved if the government intervenes and goes directly after the company.
During this stage, your attorney can advise you on how to handle yourself to avoid agitating anyone within the company. If the government does not get involved, a good whistleblower lawyer will provide you with the way forward, after carefully examining your case.
In some cases, the attorney can continue with the case and the government can step in later.
6. Exercise Patience as the Process May Take a While
Whistleblower cases take time to prosecute. During the proceedings, you will need to be cooperative and patient until the case is resolved. When the claim fails to get settled within a particular time frame, the government can intervene, and the case will be in litigation. During the litigation process, the complaint is answered through a public court system, which takes even longer.
The case will be under seal for a year or more as the relevant authorities conduct an investigation. The process can also take a year or more to get to trial or reach a settlement. During the litigation process, you cannot talk about the case details with anyone apart from the lawyers involved.
The whole process can be frustrating, especially if you have financial problems due to unemployment or facing hurdles at your workplace.
7. Collecting Your Whistleblower Reward
After the investigation is complete and the whistleblower claim is at trial, settled or won, you are entitled to a share of the money the government will recover. The company involved can be fined up to three times the money involved for engaging in illegal activities like tax evasion, with additional hefty fines.
The exact share is negotiated between your attorney and the government. There are many factors to consider, like your contribution to the whole recovery process. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, you can be awarded 10%-30% if the recovered amount exceeds $1 million in a government-intervened case. However, if you pursue the case independently, you are entitled to up to 25%-30% of the amount retrieved.
Discuss Your Case With an Experienced Whistleblower Lawyer
At MJSB Employment Justice, we understand that filing a whistleblower case can be a frustrating journey. Our team of legal experts has vast knowledge and experience in handling whistleblower cases. We will work for you and with you every step of the way to help deliver justice. Contact us today to book an appointment.