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When Whistleblowing is Your Only Option, Who Do You Turn To?

  • By:Hershey Law

The Whistleblower amendment has recently been in the news again as proposed amendments were voted into law. These amendments were both a step backward and forward for whistleblowers, as it limited awards for cases resulting in an over $30 million payout – a substantial sum for most people, anyway, and only 3 of 59 recent whistleblower cases resulted in this number.

However, it also made a lot of necessary clarifications as to how whistleblowers are protected from retaliation. This adjustment may make those on the fence about whether or not they would be safe to step up and report unethical and illegal activities feel more confident.

Even though whistleblowing is in the news more today, it’s not a new thing. People have been stepping up to those in higher positions who act unethically for centuries. It’s part of what makes us human – the knowledge that we may have to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position to protect the wellbeing of others, and then the action that follows that knowledge.

If this is called whistleblowing, then you can be a proud whistleblower. But you have to know who to turn to so that you can defend those victims of the illegal or unethical activity and still protect your own rights.

What Defines a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower, by definition, is someone who pulls the blanket off and exposes a private or public organization that is involved in activities that would be considered illegal, unethical, or in general inappropriate. Sometimes, this misdeed is as small as someone or multiple people violating company policies or rules and sometimes it is as massive as a threat to public interest or national security. 

Whistleblowing misdeeds include fraud, corruption, and other unethical or illegal actions. If you are aware of any actions going on in your organization that make you uncomfortable as they may fall in these categories, you can bring your accusations to light either internally or externally. You have avenues in front of you to release this stress of whether something is right or wrong and put it in the hands of the authorities who can make the decision for you.

While it sounds like an easy choice to make, many potential whistleblowers are faced with an internal controversy. They are concerned about being perceived as a “tattler,” a stigma that we learn early in life is not a good thing to be called. They are also worried about retaliation coming back to haunt them in their job. These are legitimate fears and obstacles in the way of “doing the right thing,” and if you are juggling with the yin and yang pull of knowing what you should do versus concerns of what might happen if you do, please know you are not alone.

Who Can You Turn to as a Potential Whistleblower?

When you know something is wrong but aren’t sure if you want to be caught in the middle, you may need a neutral third party to run it by for advice. Googling the action, looking up whistleblower cases, or talking to an attorney confidentially can help you make the decision of your next step. 

However, the law says that in whistleblower cases, the first to file the claim is the one to be awarded, so guard your actions and your evidence well. There are also “public disclosure” prohibitions in some whistleblower laws, making it possible that if you tell anyone, you can put your claim in jeopardy.

Once you decide that you are ready to take that step, you have two main options. You can either choose to bring your accusations to the attention of people in charge internally or externally. If you decide to take the internal route, you should contact your direct supervisor or someone in a higher-up position in the company you work in who can help you get the illegal actions stopped. If you go the external route, however, you will need to get into contact with a third party outside of the company, such as the government, law enforcement, or even the media.

The best route to take, though, is to bring your allegations to the attention of a knowledgeable lawyer, like those at Hershey Law. Although there are hundreds of government hotlines that you can contact, doing so likely negates your chance of filing a claim and receiving compensation – something you may very well need should you decide not to stay in your position after you blow the whistle on those illegal or unethical activities.

Before you report your accusations to anyone other than a lawyer, you need to have a plan in place. The anti-retaliation laws that the United States federal government and the majority of states have in place will protect you down the road. They say that you can sue your employer if there is retaliation. But they don’t help you during that time if you lose your job or have to leave it due to a hostile environment, and those lawsuits can take years. Speaking with an attorney is the best way to receive guidance as to your next actions along this uncharted path and still protect yourself and your family.

What Will You Need to Do to Prove Your Case

As with every case in the United States, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty and it is your job, working in conjunction with your attorney, to prove that you are right and they are guilty. This is particularly true in a whistleblowing case, since the allegations are based on illegal activities that can send someone to jail, destroy a business, and have drastic financial and long-term consequences. 

But don’t let that stop you from telling the truth – you are a hero, standing up for what is right and just, and as long as what you say is factual, you have every reason to be strong in your conviction.

To prove your case, you need to try to collect as much evidence as you can. That may mean having to simply listen and gather data while the illegal activities go on, as long as they are not immediately hurting anyone. Document everything you see and hear and include names, dates, locations, and everything you can. Write down the names of witnesses who may also have seen or heard something that can substantiate your allegations.

During this evidence-collecting time period, it is possible that there may be something that raises a red flag and brings your action to the attention of the company. If this happens, you may end up on paid leave without a real cause, so if there is anything on your computer or in your files that you want to use as evidence, you need to make sure you keep a backup copy at all times. 

Again, this is the point where having a knowledgeable attorney will help you know what to collect and where to store it. You don’t want to be crossing the line yourself and end up collecting illegal evidence.

Talk to a Lawyer Before Whistleblowing

You do have rights – lots of them. You are also doing the right thing by standing up and stopping these people engaging in illegal or unethical activities before they can hurt others. However, you are treading on territory that can be difficult and sometimes even dangerous, and you want to know that you and your family are protected from retaliation.

Don’t wait until it’s too late and you have been fired from your job for knowing – or suspecting – too much. Even if you are not interested in the award money and you are simply out to stop what you know is wrong, you need to protect your rights, and to do that, you need to consult with an attorney.

While you are outing someone for doing wrong, your reward is often pain and suffering as you lose your job and/or are blacklisted from other positions in your field. This is illegal and you don’t have to put up with it. However, if you are handling this on your own, you may be scared and worried and simply trying to support your family.

Before you sign any severance deals or agreements with your employer if they attempt to terminate you or let you go, run everything through your lawyer. The document you sign may contain language that keeps you from finding another job in your industry, stops you from being able to receive an award if you do whistleblow down the road, or prevents you from receiving your rightful benefits.

It’s a sad truth that there are enough companies out there engaging in these illegal activities that there are laws in place to protect people like you who want to stop them. But while we can’t choose their course of actions, we can step up to make a difference.

Hershey Law wants to help you fight the wrongdoing going on in your company and protect your rights as you take an ethical stand. Call us today for your free consultation.

Posted in: Employment Law, Whistleblower