One of the biggest concerns for any potential whistleblower is retaliation from his or her employer. That fear of losing a job or being demoted has, in turn, lead many employees with knowledge of fraud to simply keep their heads down and keep quiet.
Fortunately, the federal False Claims Act contains protections for whistleblowers who report or try to stop fraud against the government. Under 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h) of that statute, employers are prohibited from discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, or in any other manner discriminating against employees who take action to stop the employer’s fraud.
When Congress first added this employee protection to the False Claims Act, the only activity that was explicitly covered was filing or assisting in a qui tam lawsuit against that employer. However, amendments to the statute in 2009 and 2010 have significantly expanded the scope of protected conduct to include any “efforts to stop” the employer’s violations of the federal False Claims Act. As a result, an employee does not need to file a qui tam False Claims Act lawsuit in order to be protected from retaliation. Under the right set of facts, an employee who files an internal complaint regarding fraud against the United States, or who takes her allegations to a company manager, etc. is protected from retaliation under the statute.
If an employer does retaliate against a whistleblower for reporting fraud, the False Claims Act provides stiff penalties, including two times the employee’s actual lost wages, reinstatement, and reasonable litigation expenses and attorneys fees. Of course, any potential whistleblower who has concerns about retaliation should bring those concerns to an attorney before moving forward.
The basic, important point is that federal law does prohibit employers from retaliating against whistleblowers, and whistleblowers who believe that their employers have retaliated against them are not powerless and have well-established legal rights.