Whistleblower rights and protections

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” – Thomas Jefferson

The role of a whistleblower is indispensable in any truly democratic, free society. Whistleblowers throughout history have put aside their own fears of persecution, belittlement and, in some cases, imprisonment or death in order to stand tall as purveyors of truth and justice.

A whistleblower is defined as any person or persons which reveals information pertaining to harmful or illicit actions taken by an individual or a governmental, corporate or private group, which may in turn lead to a criminal investigation and/or penalties levied against that group. An essential part of the whistleblowing definition is the distinction that such information would not likely otherwise become known if not for the action of the whistleblower.

A whistleblower is, essentially, a watchdog that keeps a focused eye on the goings on of important people and entities. If the whistleblower feels they have enough evidence and enough moral impetus to make their findings public, they will do so, often times bringing down a hammer of responsibility onto the parties that were engaged in illicit behavior.

Just recently, the topic of whistleblowing in the United States came into the forefront of everybody’s attention when Edward Snowden shared confidential information with journalists from his time working for the National Security Agency – information that revealed the massive scope of the NSA’s surveillance program, used on both private American citizens and people in foreign nations.

Although not every whistleblowing case has the immense implications and reaction of Snowden’s revelations, there are hundreds of whistleblowing events in the United States every year. Some of these may be related to fraudulent business practices, illicit tax practices or more nuanced types of political or corporate corruption – such as acceptance of bribes or kickbacks.

Whistleblowers have legal rights to protection

If a whistleblower amasses a case against a business engaging in fraudulent securities practices, they have a friend in the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), which has its own self-operating whistleblowing office and will provide legal protection and guidance to any whistleblower with legitimate information.

Similarly, if a whistleblower can gather evidence of tax fraud, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), too, has its own whistleblowers office, providing similar services and protections that the SEC does.

Both of these offices have led to tremendous success for the agencies in terms of finding more illicit activity, as they now have the watchful eyes of millions of regular people watching areas that they simply don’t have the resources to cover.

The relationship works both for the governmental authorities tasked with weeding out and penalizing corruption, and for the whistleblowers themselves. Both the IRS and SEC whistleblowing programs give out generous awards for any whistleblower that successfully reveals illicit activity.

Since 2007, the IRS Whistleblower Office has helped the IRS collect $3.4 billion in what would otherwise be lost revenue, and in turn the IRS has given out a total of over $465 million in rewards to the whistleblowers who helped save this revenue. The SEC has given out over $111 million in rewards since 2011.

For federal workers of government entities, there is the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, which protects whistleblowers working for government agencies from retaliatory actions if they report misconduct or illicit activity from within.

Know something? Let us help

Whistleblowers must often work in tandem with legal advisors. In fact, the SEC whistleblowing program requires that any whistleblowers have an attorney sign with them on their whistleblowing form, to ensure that the whistleblower acknowledges they understand the complex language within the whistleblowing agreement.

When dealing with something as potentially-lucrative and potentially-impactful as a whistleblowing case, it is absolutely imperative that a whistleblower knows all of the fine print details that go into managing, submitting and following up with a whistleblowing claim. Some agencies, like the IRS, may actually impose penalties in the future for submissions that don’t lead to any sanctions against the accused entities, so attention to detail and making sure you’ve gone over every angle of the case is crucial.

At Altman & Altman LLP, we have over 40 years of experience managing high-profile, high-stakes cases that involve many days’ worth of painstaking analysis and studying. We do not shy away from complex matters, and have the acumen to handle your case with the utmost care and attention.

If you know of any wrongdoing by any person, private or public organization, we can help make your whistleblowing case successful. Call us for a free consultation today at 617-492-3000 or toll-free at 800-481-6199. We are available 24/7.

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