What are Whistleblower Protections?
Your questions about workers’ rights, answered
What’s a whistleblower? What rights do you have if you report illegal activity in your workplace?
Blowing the whistle on your employer isn’t always easy. Whistleblowers may experience retaliation or lose their jobs. But understanding your rights under whistleblower law can make the decision easier.
Is being a whistleblower illegal?
No. Whistleblower laws encourage people to come forward and report wrongdoing that endangers public health and safety, defrauds the government, or interferes with the stock or commodities markets.
In addition, there are laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation for their actions.
However, if you took part in the wrongdoing you are reporting, being a whistleblower does not give you amnesty from prosecution.
Do you get money for being a whistleblower?
Yes, some whistleblowers qualify for monetary rewards. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have whistleblower rewards programs.
There are many different types of whistleblowing, however, and not every type is eligible for money.
Also, if you report that fraud has been committed against the government – state or federal – you may be eligible for a monetary reward. However, you must be the first one to file a claim about the fraud in order to be eligible for reward money. Under the reward programs, you are eligible to share in the money the government recovers based on the information you’ve given.
Recovering a reward under any of the whistleblowing programs can be complicated, so you may want to speak with an experienced New York employment attorney who offers a free consultation.
Can a whistleblower remain anonymous?
Sometimes. Under both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) whistleblower programs, the whistleblower can choose to remain anonymous. However, they can only choose anonymity if they are represented by an attorney.
With other programs, whistleblowers cannot remain anonymous. While “qui tam” suits – actions that allege a wrongdoer defrauded the government – are filed under seal to protect the identity of the whistleblower, this does not ensure anonymity. At some point in the litigation, the whistleblower’s identity will be revealed.
How do I get whistleblower protection?
Numerous laws protect whistleblowers. There are more than two dozen federal laws alone, as well as several New York state laws.
The laws that protect you from retaliation by your employer differ depending on the type of whistleblowing, whether you are filing your claim under federal or New York state law, where you file your claim, and whether or not you are a government employee, among other considerations.
If you believe your employer has taken adverse action against you for reporting wrongdoing, you should speak with an experienced whistleblower attorney right away. Some laws give you only 30 days to file a claim.
Who is a whistleblower in the workplace?
Whistleblowing means coming forward to report activities that are possibly illegal, unethical, or inappropriate. The reporting could be done internally within the company or government agency, or externally to the authorities or to the public.
Many times, whistleblowers are employees, because they are in the perfect position to see the wrongdoing taking place at a company or government agency. Although many whistleblowers are employees, a whistleblower does not need to be directly employed by the company or agency that committed the wrongdoing.
What are whistleblower laws?
There are many laws, federal and state, that cover whistleblowers in New York. In fact, there are nearly two dozen federal statutes alone that establish protections for whistleblowers.
Federal whistleblower laws include:
- Whistleblower Protection Act
- False Claims Act
- Occupational Safety and Health Act
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act
- Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
New York state whistleblower laws include:
- New York Whistleblower Law
- New York False Claims Act
This is far from a complete list. There are many more laws that concern particular types of whistleblowers. For example, the Internal Revenue Service has its own version of the False Claims Act which covers whistleblower claims relating to tax fraud.
Because there are so many laws with different rules regarding where and when to file claims, it is a good idea to contact an experienced employment attorney before you act.
Can you be fired for reporting harassment?
No. Although reporting illegal harassment (harassment based on gender, race, religion, disability, etc.) does not constitute “whistleblowing,” it is illegal for your employer to fire you or take any other negative employment action against you for reporting illegal harassment.
This is true even if an investigation ultimately concludes there was no harassment, as long as you reasonably believed you or other employees were being harassed at the time you reported it.
You can read more about your protections against retaliation for reporting workplace harassment.
What are the types of whistleblowing?
There are countless wrongful activities whistleblowers can report, but they fall into three basic categories:
- Health and safety concerns such as large-scale food contamination or a railroad company failing to comply with safety laws.
- Fraud against the government such as overcharging Medicare/Medicaid systems or embezzlement by government contractors.
- Securities and banking fraud such as insider trading and Ponzi schemes.
All whistleblowers benefit from whistleblowing protection laws.
Who can be a whistleblower?
Anyone with knowledge of company or agency wrongdoing can be a whistleblower.
A whistleblower is someone who comes forward to report unethical or illegal activities being carried out within a private or public company or government agency. Most whistleblowers are current or former employees, since they usually are in the best position to see what is going on within a company or agency.
However, you do not have to be a current or former employee of the company that has engaged in the fraud or misconduct, and whistleblowers do not need to witness the fraud or misconduct firsthand. Anyone with knowledge of fraud or wrongdoing can be a whistleblower.
As for why whistleblowing is important, it safeguards the public’s safety and well-being, guards against the waste of taxpayer money, and protects the integrity of our financial systems and markets.
How do you file a Whistleblower or Retaliation Claim in NY?
The way in which you file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in New York depends on the type of whistleblowing, whether you are filing under federal or state law, and whether you are federal employee, among other things.
The laws regarding whistleblowers are numerous and complex. If you think you have wrongdoing to report, or if you believe your employer has taken adverse action against you for reporting wrongdoing, you should speak with an experienced New York whistleblower attorney as soon as possible.
What is the New York City whistleblowing law?
Whistleblowers in New York City are protected by federal and New York state laws. These include the New York Whistleblower Law, the New York False Claims Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
What are the statutes of limitations in New York for whistleblowing?
The statues for whistleblowing vary greatly depending on the type of wrongdoing. However, some laws require you to file a claim for retaliation as soon as 30 days from when you learn of the retaliation or planned retaliation.
If you think you have information or evidence of wrongdoing, or if you believe your employer has taken or will take adverse action against you for reporting wrongdoing, you should speak with an experienced New York whistleblower attorney as soon as possible.
What is the New York Labor Law 740?
New York Labor Law section 740 is known as the New York Whistleblower Law. It protects whistleblowers from retaliation by their employer.
Specifically, the law prohibits employers from firing, suspending, demoting, or otherwise retaliating against an employee for reporting any activity, policy, or practice of the employer that creates a substantial danger to the public health or safety, or that constitutes health care fraud.
What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA), as substantially amended by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, applies to current and former federal employees and applicants for federal jobs.
However, the WPA does not cover all federal employees. For example, employees of federal contractors, members of the military and employees of federal intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI do not have the same protections under the WPA as other federal employees.
The WPA protects those who report the possible existence of illegal activity, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety from retaliation.
If you believe your employer has retaliated against you for whistleblowing, you can take the following actions under the WPA:
- File a claim with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC);
- Pursue an individual right of action before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), but you must first file with the OSC and wait 120 days before taking this action; or
- Initiate a grievance proceeding pursuant to an applicable collective bargaining agreement.
- The WPA authorizes reinstatement, back pay for lost wages, compensatory damages, and litigation costs, including reasonable attorney fees.
You can also contact a whistleblower attorney for a free consultation.