How Are Whistleblowers Protected?

A patchwork of legal protections have been woven into American jurisprudence for the protection of those who inform on fraudulent and unethical business activity. Known as “whistleblowers,” these brave individuals serve the public interest by identifying and disclosing gross pilferage of public resources.

In so doing, these informants assume major risks. Employment, assets, economic security, liberty, and even personal safety are often jeopardized or compromised. In response, legal machinery has evolved to insure the protection of whistleblowers against reprisals.

Whistleblower Protection Pursuant to the False Claims Act

The False Claims Act (“FCA”) was the first US statute to specifically enumerate whistleblower protections. FCA complainants now have up to six years to initiate legal redress for alleged reprisals.

The FCA’s plain language provides severe penalties for whistleblower reprisals. Section 3730 of the law provides in relevant part:

“… (h) Relief From Retaliatory Actions.—

(1) In general.— Any employee, contractor, or agent shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make that employee, contractor, or agent whole, if that employee, contractor, or agent is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment because of lawful acts done by the employee, contractor, or agent on behalf of the employee, contractor, or agent or associated others in furtherance of other efforts to stop 1 or more violations of this subchapter.
(2) Relief.— Relief under paragraph (1) shall include reinstatement with the same seniority status that employee, contractor, or agent would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. An action under this subsection may be brought in the appropriate district court of the United States for the relief provided in this subsection.”

Other Major Statutory Protections

Throughout the United States, legal protection of whistleblowers varies greatly by state and subject matter of the specific misconduct involved. Whistleblowers should be cognizant of applicable deadlines and procedures for formally invoking statutory protections against retaliation.

Some major US statutes that explicitly provide significant whistleblower protection against reprisals include:

The Lloyd–La Follette Act of 1912

This law conferred job-related protections to government workers. Employees of the Federal government were guaranteed the freedom to supply information about agency malfeasance to Congress without fear of retaliation.

Water Pollution Control Act of 1972

Also known as the Clear Water Act, this US statute afforded similar protections to whistle blowing Federal employees. Many subsequent environmental protection laws included prohibitions against whistleblower reprisals.

Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982

Initially enacted to safeguard truckers, this law extended protection from retaliation to employees who reported regulatory violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA“). The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act and Sarbanes-Oxley Act were enacted in 2002. Both of these laws contained nearly identical whistleblower protections for the reporting of fraudulent corporate activities.

Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989

This US law protects whistle blowing Federal employees who report the misconduct of government agencies. Any retaliatory threats or actions that result from such protected disclosures are illegal. The statute provides for Federal employees to report any good-faith belief of any legal violation, rule, or regulation; gross fiscal wastage; significant public health or safety-related misconduct; or, abuse of discretion.

Allegations of whistleblower reprisals pursuant to more than 20 US statutes is overseen by the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program. This special function of the US Dept. of Labor falls within the auspices of OSHA.

The extensive whistleblower protections incorporated into these and other Federal statutes reflects a legislative intent to promote the deterrence and prevention of fraudulent claims against the government. An equally essential legislative goal is private enforcement of public health and safety regulations. The comprehensive statutory safeguards for whistleblowers discussed herein should prompt those with knowledge of business corruption to take affirmative action.