When someone takes a job with a company, they agree to trade their time, labor and ability for financial compensation. Employment should be a mutually-beneficial arrangement where both parties derive something of value. Unfortunately, sometimes workers reach the conclusion that their job is unsafe or that it has put them at legal risk due to a company’s practices.
Workers may become concerned about overt safety violations at a factory or illegal billing practices at a medical office. They may realize that they need to speak up about what they have witnessed on the job, but they likely worry that they will lose their employment if they act as a whistleblower.
Whistleblowers are employees who draw attention to misconduct and other issues within an organization. There are three relatively common ways for whistleblowers to prompt change within a company, and they technically have protection from retaliation after engaging in any of these actions openly or anonymously.
Filing an internal report
Sometimes, one individual, a group of workers or a particular department engages in conduct without the explicit permission of a company’s management and executive teams. For example, perhaps someone in the billing department at a medical facility takes it upon themselves to change billing practices because they believe it will make the company more money to do so. Gathering records of unsafe or illegal practices and presenting them to someone not involved in the situation could prompt internal review and company changes.
Notifying regulatory agencies
There are dozens of state and federal regulatory authorities whose sole purpose is to oversee certain types of businesses. Making a report to one of these outside organizations is a common form of whistleblowing. Particularly in scenarios where people believe that management is aware of and ignoring an issue, the involvement of government agencies may be the most effective means of resolving illegal or unsafe business conduct.
Initiating a qui tam lawsuit
Under the False Claims Act, those who are aware of a company’s illegal billing practices can file a lawsuit on behalf of the government. The whistleblower becomes a relator bringing a lawsuit on behalf of the government. Such lawsuits can force a company to change its practices and compensate the government for prior losses generated by inappropriate billing practices. The relator in a successful qui tam lawsuit typically receives a portion of the funds recovered and has the same protections as other whistleblowers from employer retaliation.
The best approach to resolving problematic workplace conduct depends on an individual’s unique circumstances. As a result, seeking legal guidance to explore one’s rights and options may benefit those concerned about unsafe or illegal practices at an organization.