Whistleblowers can play a huge role in protecting a society as they’re the ones who report specific wrongdoings of an organization or company. However, it takes a significant amount of courage to be a whistleblower. That’s because people who take on this job can suffer from backlash and retaliation if they act impulsively, not knowing how to proceed. Therefore, it’s important to know what’s involved in whistleblowing and what you should and should not do. Here are some basic guidelines on how to become a whistleblower, along with how a qualified whistleblower attorney can help you.
What is a Whistleblower?
Maybe you’re unfamiliar with the term “whistleblower.” Simply put, a whistleblower is someone who reports the misconduct or wrongdoing of an employer or organization. A common recent example of a whistleblower is Julian Assange, who founded WikiLeaks in 2006. Since then, WikiLeaks has been responsible for more than 1.2 million leaks.
The whistleblower can be currently employed in the organization or be a former employee. The misconduct can be a transgression that occurred in the past, be current or even be in the planning stages. Whistleblowing falls into two main categories: internal whistleblowing and external whistleblowing.
- Internal whistleblowing involves a whistleblower reporting a wrongdoing to someone else who works inside an organization.
- External whistleblowing is when the whistleblower discloses misconduct to a source outside of the organization, such as law enforcement or the media.
Try to Resolve the Problem Internally
Before you rush out and put together a case, try to resolve the issue within the organization or company by addressing the misbehavior to the top officials. In most cases, legitimate companies use some type of internal procedure for resolving these issues, such as a whistleblower hotline. Just be sure your concerns are written and documented, rather than verbal.
Collect Specific Evidence
First, you need to have an authentic case and not one that’s only based on simple hunches, speculations or rumors. This means you’ll have to gather specific evidence that proves what you’re reporting is factual.
When collecting evidence, be selective in what you choose as too much information can be detrimental for your case. Keep in mind how you don’t have the right to divulge harmful, irrelevant data that won’t help but can actually weaken your case. In other words, don’t use data, such as salary information, client lists and trade secrets that can work against you and even put you at risk for being sued.
Get Sound Legal Counsel
Don’t take any action before securing a competent and experienced whistleblowing lawyer who can protect you from retaliation. Make sure any attorney you choose is known for his or her integrity and has been successful in winning whistleblowing cases.
An effective whistleblowing lawyer shouldn’t have a conflict of interest. For example, sometimes lawyers already represent clients in similar cases and try to steal information from new clients. You’ll need an experienced attorney who has a proven record for making sound judgments.
The Whistleblower Protection Act
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, also known as the WPA, is a law protecting U.S. government employees from retaliatory action from freely revealing information regarding illegal or dishonest activities that occur at a government organization. This type of disclosed information can include the waste of funds, mismanagement, wrongdoings or involve a potential threat to safety or public health.
The False Claims Act
The False Claims Act can protect you as a whistleblower from retaliation as it’s illegal for an employee to be suspended, demoted, harassed or threatened for filing a qui tam lawsuit. Sensitive whistleblowing attorneys understand how a whistleblower may be hesitant to file a qui tam lawsuit, so they explain to clients how a suit is kept confidential and remains sealed. Furthermore, besides the False Claims Acts, there are more specific state laws that offer even more protection for whistleblowers.
Other Considerations and Warnings
- Stay off social media. Consider how complaining on FaceBook and other social media sites about how a company has engaged in misconduct can be destructive.
- If you fail to convince a qualified lawyer about your claims, then you probably don’t have a case.
- Consider that whistleblower attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you don’t have to pay a lawyer any money until you win your case. Thus, be leery of any lawyer who charges an hourly rate.
- Don’t expect a company to come to a quick, easy settlement because this doesn’t happen often.
- Look for another source of income. Because these cases can take even years to complete, you’ll need to find additional ways to support yourself.
- Find emotional support by connecting with other whistleblowers who understand what you’re going through.
If you need sound legal advice, call the legal professionals at Aiman-Smith & Marcy. In addition to whistleblowing cases, our Oakland, California-based law firm specializes in consumer fraud, employment law, class actions in California and other areas. Please contact us to set up a free consultation.