In the early 1970s, Ralph Nader coined the term “whistleblower” to describe individuals with knowledge of fraud, safety violations or other illegal acts who decide to come forward to share that information with the government.
Whistleblowers play a key role in the U.S. justice system, helping to reduce fraud, increase safety and ensure transparency. By offering legal protection to whistleblowers in the workplace, the state and federal governments encourage these private citizens to report fraud, which costs taxpayers as well as the government billions of dollars annually.
Federal and state whistleblower statutes protect workers from retaliation for reporting safety concerns, work-related injuries or other protected activities.
The False Claims Act offers financial compensation to whistleblowers whose lawsuits recover government funds and protects whistleblowers from retaliation from employers because of risks they have voluntarily taken to expose fraud against the government.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the federal government has recovered more than $39 billion in cases brought under the False Claims Act since 1987. In addition, the federal government has paid more than $4.2 billion in awards to whistleblowers under that statute, including approximately $3.6 billion since 2001.
A qui tam lawsuit, a specific type of whistleblower case that falls under the False Claims Act, rewards whistleblowers if their case recovers funds for the government. In a qui tam lawsuit, the government can collect up to three times the defrauded amount, plus additional fines and penalties for each false claim.
Qui tam cases provide incentives for whistleblowers to help the government reduce fraud, from the filing of false Medicare and Medicaid claims to knowingly selling the government defective products. In many cases, the government would never have discovered the fraudulent activity had the whistleblower not come forward with the information.
The financial reward for a whistleblower in a qui tam case varies, depending upon how the case in handled and how funds are recovered. If the government recovers funds through a trial or settlement, the whistleblower is typically awarded between 15 and 25 percent of the recovery.
If the case is pursued by independent legal counsel without government intervention, the whistleblower reward ranges between 25 and 30 percent of the recovery.
Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970, Congress has expanded federal whistleblower authority to protect workers from retaliation under 22 different laws. Complaints must be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office within established time frames following any retaliatory action, as prescribed by law.
If you have evidence of fraud against the government and decide to expose that fraudulent activity, seek legal counsel to ensure compliance with the False Claims Act and to maximize potential recovery amounts.
Whistleblower cases can be complicated, so it’s important to work closely with an attorney who can help the government investigate the allegations at hand and determine appropriate compensation under state and federal law.
Stephen G. Lowry is a partner with the law firm of Harris Penn Lowry LLP who has handled numerous whistleblower claims. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-651-9967.