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Whistleblower Retaliation And Your Rights

Since the beginning of history, there have been ethical businesses, and there have been businesses that seek to defraud or mislead the public. One of the most common ways to expose unethical or inappropriate corporate conduct in this modern age is for employees to “blow the whistle,” or inform on corrupt practices to the government. However, it can backfire, and the employees who serve as whistleblowers can face retaliatory action. If this happens to you, be advised that it is illegal, and you will likely be able to bring suit against your employer or ex-employer for taking such action.

Whistleblowing Helps Combat Fraud

Whistleblower (also called qui tam) lawsuits most commonly arise when an employee hears of unethical behavior being taken by their employer against the government—the cases most often prosecuted usually involve Medicare or defense contract-related fraud, but in theory, many different reasons exist why someone might feel compelled to blow the whistle. The federal False Claims Act is the underlying legal justification for many of these suits, permitting private citizens to essentially file lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. government. South Carolina does have its own law surrounding this as well.

Fraud against the U.S. government is not ubiquitous, but it is more common than one might expect or want, and with the passage of the False Claims Act, private citizens are essentially permitted to help the government police its own programs. In a qui tam suit, a private citizen (for example, an employee of a company that does business with the U.S. government) may file suit against their employer, alleging fraud. If the case is decided in favor of the government and against their employer, the whistleblower (also called a “relator”) is entitled to a certain percentage of the fine paid.

Fraud and Retaliation

Whistleblowing can be frightening, even though there are safeguards in place to protect whistleblowers’ identities. A National Business Ethics Survey reported approximately 35 percent of employees who witnessed wrongdoing chose not to report it, and of that number, half cited fear of whistleblower retaliation as a reason. A lack of knowledge as to what constitutes retaliation is partly to blame, with many employees remaining in the dark about just what conduct opens an employer up to liability. In truth, many kinds of retaliation, from demotion to being passed over for a project to termination, can be seen as punitive and thus actionable. If you blow the whistle and suffer for it, you have many options available to right the wrong.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) both accept retaliatory discharge and discrimination claims. However, you should be advised that under South Carolina law (as opposed to federal), being fired for blowing the whistle may not be a claim to pursue. In many states, being fired for reporting illegal activity is considered a violation of public policy. However, South Carolina courts have historically not extended this public policy exception to whistleblowing. If you are in such a position, it may be better to try and file with the EEOC, and place your case under the aegis of federal law.

Contact An Experienced Attorney

Whistleblowing is not a lighthearted or brief undertaking, and those who do it should be applauded. If you have been a victim of whistleblower retaliation or have been otherwise mistreated by your employer, contact the law office of Hitchcock & Potts today.

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