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A “whistleblower” is a person who exposes illegal or unethical conduct. This unethical or unlawful 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
Are you an employee who has become aware that your company has done something illegal, dishonest, or unethical? Whether you complain internally about the wrongdoing to your supervisor or some other member of management, or you report the misconduct 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 and employees who work for local, state, or the federal government.
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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 illegal or unethical conduct. The following are examples of retaliation:
- Fires or terminates the whistleblower
- Demotes the whistleblower
- Disciplines the whistleblower
- Cuts the whistleblower’s 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 whistleblower’s 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.
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 are 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 with information that their employer is defrauding or stealing money from the government can file a lawsuit against their employer and recover compensation for the fraud.
The False Claims Act also protects employees from retaliation; employers cannot fire employees for challenging the misconduct. Companies found guilty of having violated the False Claims Act can be required to pay up to three times what the government lost plus penalties. If the lawsuit is successful, the whistleblower is entitled to a financial reward of a percentage of the recovery.
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 poorly manufactured uniforms. Recent abuses that fall within the act’s scope include a government contractor charging the Air Force 10,000 dollars for a single toilet seat cover installation 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 defective product, underpaying or refusing to pay the government on 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 bill patients for a service never performed, and Medicaid or Medicare is paying the bill. For example, a nursing home charges physical therapy to teach a patient how to climb stairs using crutches. In reality, the patient has quadriplegia and cannot walk at all, and never received any physical therapy.
- Doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes bill a patient for unnecessary procedures, and Medicaid or Medicare is paying the bill.
- Submitting falsified information to obtain federal loans or grants.
- A government contractor charges 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 an 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. They must provide a copy of the complaint and a written statement of all evidence supporting their allegations to the Attorney General of the United States and the local United States Attorney.
Because complaints are sealed, neither the defendants nor the public knows that a Complaint was filed. The complaint remains under seal for 60 days while the government investigates the whistleblower’s allegations. The government frequently extends the seal for months or years.
Before the whistleblower’s complaint becomes public, the government notifies the whistleblower and the Court if 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 their attorney remain involved in the case and often prove to be critical partners to the government’s case prosecution.
The Law Offices of Jason E Taylor are available to help employees who feel they have information that would support the filing of a False Claims Act case.
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