A whistleblower is a person who reports fraud, corruption or other wrongdoing, usually, but not always, at their place of work. Most states have laws that protect whistleblowers and prohibit employers from firing, demoting or retaliating against whistleblowers.
When a whistleblower sees fraud committed against the government, he or she has the opportunity to become a qui tam whistleblower under the False Claims Act, which is a federal law that encourages whistleblowers to report fraud and thereby receive a reward for their efforts.
We often get the question, “How do I become a whistleblower?”
The first and most important step is to contact a knowledgeable attorney who has experience with whistleblower and False Claims Act cases. We cannot stress this enough. There are a thousand ways to screw up your whistleblower case before it even gets started. You need a lawyer who has done this before to tell you whether you have a decent case and to guide you through the process.
Don’t worry – experienced whistleblower attorneys will not charge you anything for a meeting or phone call to hear about your case. Most lawyers who specialize in these cases work on a contingency fee and will not charge you anything unless there is a recovery at the end of the case. If you contact a lawyer who wants to charge you an hourly fee to listen to your story, you are not talking to a knowledgeable whistleblower attorney. Find another one ASAP!
Whistleblowers who charge forward without speaking to an attorney first run the risk of making mistakes. They might take documents they shouldn’t take from the company, talk to people they shouldn’t talk to, or sign agreements they shouldn’t sign. Find an attorney first!
If your attorney thinks you have a good whistleblower case, he or she will file a Disclosure Statement with the local United States Attorney or State Attorney General. This is a detailed memorandum that explains your case and all the evidence you have to back it up.
Your attorney will then file a complaint with a federal or state court, which will be under seal. This means you will not be allowed to talk about the case with anyone, even your spouse. If you talk about the case with anyone, you may violate the seal which could jeopardize the whole case.
The case will remain under seal for a period of time so that the government can investigate your case. At the end of its investigation, the government will decide to take over your case, called “intervention,” or the government will decide not to take over your case, called “non-intervention.” If the government does not take over your case, you and your lawyer can decide whether to pursue the case on your own, without the government’s help. We have done it both ways.
Whistleblower cases last for a long time, often taking many years. By the end of the case, you and your lawyer will probably become very good friends. If all goes well, the fraud that you’ve complained about will be stopped and you will receive a reward for your time, effort and energy.
If you feel you have a whistleblower case and would like to talk about it, feel free to contact our firm. We have represented whistleblowers from all around the country, and we handle these cases every day.