Attorneys who work in the false claims area often encounter potential clients who see themselves as “whistleblowers“. So the question is, in terms of the false claims act areas of practice, just what does the word “whistleblower” means.
While the nature of employment law is well beyond the scope of this blog, for most workers in America we are employed under the concept of “at will” employment. and, the concept of “at will employment” pretty much governs their work life.At-will employment means an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason (without “just cause”, and without warning) There are some exceptions to this in some states, including such things as “implied contracts”, “public policy exceptions”, etc. These vary by state, as does what those terms mean. There are also some whistleblower protection laws that cover government employees, but for the most part “blowing the whistle” is not a protected activity.
Whistleblowers can be internal to the company. That means that you try to bring to the attention of company executives their violation of company policy, even violation of state or federal regulations, etc. In such circumstances, an employer can determine that someone is “causing friction.”, “uncooperative”, “doesn’t get along with others”, is “disruptive”, and can seek to terminate you employee on that basis. We frequently see employees who worked well in an organization until they start trying to point out fraud, and then are defined by these labels.
These employees are usually terminated by the employer. Unfortunately, an internal whistleblower is not necessarily protected by federal or state law in most circumstances. In these circumstances, an employee needs an employment lawyer specialist in his or her own local area.
But if the ‘whistleblowing’ relates to fraud against the federal or state government. You need careful, experienced False Claims Act attorneys early on — when you first see the fraud, not after you’ve been threatened with termination. Often the best whistleblowers are those still working at the employer. These are the whistleblowers that false claims attorneys want to hear from, because the Federal and possibly State (in those states with a state law) False Claims Acts provides an anti-retaliation cause of action.
A prospective whistleblower should know, however, that the FCA will not protect him or her from being fired. It provides a remedy after the fact, but there’s no injunction available to keep an employer from firing the employee here and now.
Blowing the whistle internally, or raising issues about violation of regulations that where there is no government contract, government funds, or other government money attached to the action is not something that false claims lawyers can do anything about.
If there is government money, and the government is being defrauded (there are many ways that happens), we want to hear from you.