Understanding the Rights of Whistleblowers

A “whistleblower” is a person who brings attention to fraudulent actions of a large entity such as a government office or a healthcare provider. Before Congress enacted legislation, a whistleblower did not have any protections under the law and these individuals were subjected to reprisals by their employers including termination, demotion, and intimidation. Today, however, there are various laws in place to keep the rights of an informant well protected.

The notion of “whistle blowing” began in response to fraudulent activity during the Civil War. For example, several merchants had agreed to sell guns to the Union Army but when it came time to deliver the goods to the Army the merchants substituted boxes of sawdust instead. In another example, merchants were selling horses to the Army, reclaiming them by theft, and reselling them to the Army, often gaining. To combat these unlawful practices, the Government enacted the False Claims Act (FCA) which holds anyone who intentionally brings untrue or illegitimate claims to the government accountable for financial penalties. The Act contained “qui tam” provisions which allowed private citizens to sue on the government’s behalf. “Qui tam” is a Latin phrase, short for “he who brings an action for the king as well as himself.”

The idea behind whistle blowing was noble in theory but over time it became apparent that those who were privy to this type of misconduct were often employed by the guilty party and were reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisal. To address these concerns, Congress enacted the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 which provides protection against retaliation. This Act was the first of its kind and recognizes the rights and protections of individuals willing to come forward in an effort to stop the unlawful practices. These protections were later strengthened by the by adoption of the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989. Currently, there are approximately 20 statutes in place to protect individual rights of whistleblowers.

Examples of these claims include tax fraud, over-billing, submitting charges for unnecessary services, or contractors falsifying product test results. If you have information about a potential FCA violation or you have been a victim of retaliation following a reported violation, you should call us at (615) 244-2222 to talk about your options. Your call will be kept strictly confidential, and we will evaluate your case for free.