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What is a whistleblower? Here's what you should know

You were at work when you saw your managers having a relatively private meeting at an unusual time. You thought you saw money change hands, which seemed odd. You ignored it at the time, but you later overheard someone talking about the "bonus" they'd gotten after helping in accounting.

In your mind, something just didn't add up. You didn't want to get blamed if money turned up missing, so you reached out to a local agency that would allow you to report the incident. Later, you found out that several of the parties had been involved in accounting fraud, and you had blown the whistle on them.

Unfortunately, your employer figured out who had turned the managers in and didn't like that you did so. You were suddenly demoted. Just a week or two later, you were let go without reason.

What is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is someone who reports unethical or illegal activity when a government or company participates in those acts. The whistleblower may refuse to participate in the act after being offered a role or could discover the illegal or unethical act and report it directly.

Are whistleblowers protected by law?

In the United States, there are many whistleblower laws. These laws protect whistleblowers against retaliation.

The False Claims Act was passed in 1863 and has a qui tam provision allowing private citizens to bring lawsuits against any company that was defrauding the government, for example. This is still in place today, and, if successful, the whistleblower can even receive a percentage of what the government recovers thanks to their help.

The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees who take the time to report misconduct. Some other laws with whistleblower protections include the Clean Air Act, Sarbanes Oxley Act and Toxic Substances Control Act.

What can whistleblowers report?

Whistleblowers can report a number of illegal activities including:

  • Fraud related to military contracts
  • Health care fraud (Medicaid and Medicare)
  • Violations of environmental laws
  • Accounting fraud

What happens if the claim you make isn't true after the investigation?

As long as you are reporting an incident in good faith, you should be protected by whistleblower laws. You may be protected against firing, demotion, pay cuts, harassment and other actions that an employer could use to retaliate against you.

You should not be afraid to report fraudulent behaviors or illegal actions taken by your employer. They should be held to the same standards as other organizations, and you could help make that happen.

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