What exactly is a whistleblower? A whistleblower is someone who learns of some illegal or unethical activity, and either reports it to the authorities (thereby “blowing the whistle”) or refuses to participate in it. The most common scenario is that of an employee reporting an employer’s illegal activity. For example: tax evasion or failure to comply with government regulations.
A number of state and federal laws protect and reward whistleblowers in order to encourage people to come forward and report illegal activity. It is generally unlawful to fire someone in retaliation for reporting illegal activity.
Common Whistleblowing Scenarios
Whistleblowers report a wide variety of unlawful conduct, but there are a few recurring situations, such as:
- Military contractor fraud (defense contractors selling faulty equipment to the military)
- Health care fraud (Medicare fraud and Medicaid fraud)
- Pension fraud
- Environmental violations (illegal dumping of toxic waste)
- Securities violations
- Tax fraud
- Accounting fraud (often committed by banks or other financial organizations)
Protection from Retaliatory Firing
Whistleblowers are broadly protected from employer retaliation. In fact, an employee only needs to have a good-faith belief that their employer is violating the law in order to invoke the protection. This means that even if the whistleblower was incorrect, and their employer was not engaging in any unlawful activity, the reporting employee is still protected from retaliatory firing, demotion, harassment, and wage cuts.
Employees who are fired in retaliation for whistleblowing may be entitled to back pay and other damages.
There are several state and federal laws to protect whistleblowers, including:
- The False Claims Act (FCA)
- The Whistleblower Protection Act (protects federal employee whistleblowers who report government misconduct and corruption)
- The Clean Air Act
- The Toxic Substances Control Act
- The Sarbanes Oxley Act
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act (protects employees who report workplace safety violations, environmental violations, corporate fraud and more)
Many of these laws provide for an express period of time within which a claim must be filed, or the right to file for protection and/or compensation may be forfeited.
If you have knowledge that your employer is committing some type of fraud or illegal activity, it is imperative that you contact a knowledgeable Delaware employment lawyer as soon as possible.
Procedures for Filing a Claim
Every whistleblowing claim will be different, depending on numerous factors, like the Act the claim is being filed under. For certain types of claims, the process begins by filing a claim with a government agency before going to court. For retaliation type claims, this usually means filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
What Kind of Damages Are Whistleblowers Entitled To?
In retaliatory termination cases, an employee who prevails can ask the court for:
- Back pay (retroactive pay for wages lost resulting from being terminated)
- Front pay (if the court cannot award you your job back, you can recover prospective lost wages until you are able to find comparable new employment)
- Out-of-pocket losses (costs of finding a new job)
- Attorneys’ fees
- Court costs
Depending on the nature and strength of your claim, you may also be eligible to receive compensation for emotional distress, and punitive damages (damages meant to punish your employer for egregious conduct).
In certain types of cases, whistleblowers can recover funds as a reward for protecting the public. This serves to incentivize people to step forward and report misconduct.
Wilmington Employment Lawyers at McCann & Wall, LLC Represent Whistleblowers throughout Delaware
Whistleblowing claims can be legally complex, due to the interplay of many different laws. An experienced Delaware employment lawyer at McCann & Wall, LLC can help you determine which of these laws applies to your situation, and help you prepare and try your case. We will review the facts with you, explain your options, estimate your potential award, and walk you through the steps from filing to recovery. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 302-304-8047 or contact us online. We represent whistleblowers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.