Double billing. Contract violations. Insider trading. Risks to patients, the environment, and public safety. All of these and more are reportable under federal and some state laws, whether you work for the company as an employee or not. Know the risks and rewards of blowing the whistle, and you’ll be prepared for when and how to speak up if you spot fraud. Learning how to blow the whistle on a company can save you valuable time, money, as well as spare you from potential professional hazards.
Can You Whistleblow on a Private Company?
Even private companies can be held accountable for fraud and deceit when they receive government funding. The ways in which companies may receive taxpayer funds are numerous, such as grants, reimbursements, loans, and more. Any of the following concerns may be reportable, even among private companies:
- Employee and public safety concerns: Violations of workers’ rights, as well as imminent threats to patients and lax healthcare standards are reportable under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) as well as healthcare worker protection laws.
- Consumer product violations: Failure to appropriately test consumer products, or to follow food safety guidelines are reportable under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
- Transportation safety: Reporting transportation fraud may involve blowing the whistle on misspent grant funds, reporting government contract fraud, collusion, and more.
- Environmental threats: The EPA offers whistleblower protection laws to public sector employees as well as average people who can report on private company’s violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). All of these, as well as disclosures related to asbestos and pollution, may be reportable to the EPA Office of the Inspector General.
- Fraud and financial wrongdoing: Financial fraud covers a wide variety of concerns such as false Medicaid/Medicare reporting, predatory banking and mortgage institutions, market manipulations, and more. Different government programs offer financial rewards to whistleblowers who can help them reclaim defrauded funds. Some, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Whistleblower Program, involve anonymous reporting procedures. Others can be fulfilled by filing a qui tam complaint with the Department of Justice through a whistleblower law firm.
What Should an Employee Do Before Blowing the Whistle on their Company?
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that across 133 countries, 42% of corporate fraud was detected by tips, nearly three times as much wrongdoing as was found by internal audits. More than half of all tips come from employees. These numbers make it clear that employee honesty is one of the most powerful tools available when it comes to detecting and reporting fraud and wrongdoing.
However, whistleblowers should remember that their main role in reporting fraud is as a witness, not an investigator. You will need evidence in order to blow the whistle on fraud, but what may qualify as proof can vary depending on your position, the kind of fraud alleged, and your access to company record-keeping. For example, a financial executive may find that his or her testimony is one of the most important parts of their evidence. An insurance adjustor may find that they have access to misfiled claims over the course of their employment, whereas a nurse in the same healthcare group may find that their most important role might be sharing healthcare diagnoses that do not match insurance codes reported.
Never take anything to which you do not already have access during the course of your regular employment. Do not take it upon yourself to collect evidence or investigate further until you have spoken to a whistleblower lawyer about what kinds of proof and protections are available to you.
How to Blow the Whistle on a Company as an Employee
In order to report fraud, contact a whistleblower lawyer first to report your suspicions, and learn about what kinds of evidence are permissible in the court of law. Different kinds of fraud, coming from whistleblowers with different jobs in different industries, involve varying amounts of evidence collection, reporting processes, and protections against retaliation.
Check Your Company’s Whistleblowing Policy
Before you begin, check your company’s corporate onboarding for information about blowing the whistle. There may be a disclosure process advisable under an external auditing team, senior management, HR, compliance, or legal. In many cases, you may be asked to report your information first to your direct supervisor. Consult a whistleblower lawyer if you have questions or concerns about who you can talk to within your company.
Get Legal Advice and Representation
Certain kinds of fraud can have far-reaching implications, across your company and your own career. When in doubt, contact a whistleblower attorney to ensure that how the matter is handled is done in your own best interests, and as anonymously as possible.
Be Careful with What You Say
Whistleblower rewards may be available for previously undisclosed, unreported information that leads to the successful recovery of defrauded taxpayer funds. Share your information first with a qui tam lawyer, and not with coworkers, friends, or family to avoid missing out on a potential whistleblower award.
Do Not Go to the Press with Your Information
Do not speak to the press or post on social media about your information. Once reported, information becomes ineligible for reward in most circumstances. Sharing information inopportunely can also damage your professional reputation and cause more harm than good.
What Are the Risks Associated with Blowing the Whistle on the Company You Work For?
Despite the chance to earn up to 30% of the amount recovered in a successful qui tam lawsuit and the ethical importance of honesty, many employees still hesitate to be the ones to speak up. Employees report concerns about retaliation, loss of work, lost opportunities for advancement, and shame about being the ones to share proof about fraud with outside investigators.
If you are concerned about blowing the whistle on a company you work for, know that there are powerful legal protections available for whistleblowers. Additionally, it may be valuable to remember that financial fraud is not a victimless crime. The entire American economy suffered from predatory mortgage practices in the Great Recession. Families lost their homes, savings, and financial freedom due to risky practices today categorized as banking fraud. Additionally, stolen healthcare funds, lost veterans’ aid, misspent infrastructure investment, and more are all theft against taxpayers who contribute to a system for the public good.
Protections against Retaliation for Company Whistleblowers
Under federal law, you may be able to sue your employer for a combination of the following if you have been retaliated against as a protected whistleblower:
- Up to double back pay, with interest
- Front pay, in cases where reinstatement is not possible
- Legal fees
- Emotional distress
How to Blow the Whistle on a Company You Don’t Work For
Research shows that 10% of tips reporting fraud come from vendors. Other whistleblowers may be former employees, or competitors in the field who are familiar with standard practices, or who have suspicions about price fixing, collusion, or other kinds of contract fraud. Finally, community members and people harmed by fraudulent practices may be able to blow the whistle and hold companies accountable.
In order to blow the whistle, you need previously undisclosed, often insider information. Data such as environmental impact reports, photographs, text messages, standard pricing, and more may be enough to launch an investigation with the help of a whistleblower attorney.
Do Whistleblowers Get Paid?
Whistleblower rewards are available under several reporting programs such as the IRS Whistleblower Program, the SEC Whistleblower Program, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Whistleblower Program. Additionally, by filing a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act you may be able to recover anywhere from 15 to 30% of the final settlement as a whistleblower.
How to Blow the Whistle On a Company: FAQs
The following are some frequently asked questions about blowing the whistle on private companies:
Do you have to be an employee of the company you’re blowing the whistle on?
No. You do not even have to be a US citizen in order to blow the whistle and qualify for a reward. Banking experts, vendors, competitors, family members or friends, concerned citizens, and contractors can all report fraud if they have information that proves wrongdoing, as well as employees.
What are the 3 steps of the whistleblowing process?
The three steps to whistleblowing are as follows:
- Document the facts: Write down what you know, and assemble any existing documentation, such as photographs, emails, reports, spreadsheets, onboarding paperwork, and more that is organically available to you over the course of your job. Organizing the facts can help you present your concerns to your supervisor, auditor, or to a whistleblower attorney. Keeping records not only builds your case, but can also help you understand what kind of disclosure is necessary, and whether the threat is imminent to public safety, environmental protection, patient wellbeing, or financial wrongdoing.
- Report your concerns: In many cases, whistleblower protections only apply once an employee has spoken up about fraud. Retaliation that occurs while an employee is considering whether or not to report may not be actionable under whistleblower law.
- Cooperate with the investigation: Once your information has been disclosed as a tip, it will fall under review by federal or state investigators. During this time, your company will not be served with the complaint. Should the government choose to intervene in your case, your cooperation will be necessary in order to secure your whistleblower reward. In a qui tam case, the speed with which you report your information, and the extent of your willing cooperation with investigators may both increase the amount of a final settlement that you will be awarded as a whistleblower.
How do you whistleblow anonymously?
If you have concerns about retaliation, reporting anonymously through an authorized recipient, such as an Office of the Inspector General, or through a qui tam law firm, may be the appropriate path forward. By reporting through a qui tam attorney, the law firm will be listed on the official complaint, and not your own name. Many whistleblower records, such as those made through the Securities and Exchange Commission, are sealed even from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Can I blow the whistle on my company after signing a contract with a confidentiality clause?
Good faith reporting, or blowing the whistle because of genuine concern of illegal activity or imminent threat, is protected under federal and state law, even when the whistleblower has signed an NDA. In 2012, Congress amended the Whistleblower Protection Act in order to expand reporting protections to government employees who disclose fraud and illegal activity. In the private sector, non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are considered void when it comes to reporting a crime. In fact, offering hush money or a blatantly restrictive NDA, such as one with too broad language or meant to silence a whistleblower, may be illegal. When in doubt, have a whistleblower attorney review the scope of your NDA to see if it is enforceable.
A Whistleblower Lawyer Can Help You Blow the Whistle on a Company
If you are considering blowing the whistle, stepping up can save more than taxpayer money – it can also save lives, protect the environment, and prevent others from being taken advantage of. When done appropriately, it can also earn you a whistleblower reward. Speak with a qui tam whistleblower attorney to find out what your next steps are if you suspect fraud or wrongdoing.