Frequently Asked Questions

» What is a whistleblower?

» Who can be a whistleblower?

» Is a whistleblower protected under the law?

» What kind of evidence must a whistleblower have?

» Should a whistleblower report to the government?

» What type of fraud or misconduct is covered by the whistleblower laws?

» When should a whistleblower report the fraud or misconduct?

» Is a whistleblower entitled to a financial reward?

» How does a whistleblower report the fraud to the government?

» What happens after the whistleblower reports to the government?

» What happens if the government decides to pursue an action?

» What happens if the government decides to take no action?

» Is a whistleblower protected against retaliation?

» Can a whistleblower remain anonymous?

» What if a whistleblower participated in the fraud?

» What is the False Claims Act?

» What is the Dodd-Frank Act?

» What is the IRS whistleblower law?

» What other whistleblower laws exist?

» What is the role of a whistleblower lawyer?


Q. What is a whistleblower?

A. A whistleblower is someone who has evidence of fraud or misconduct and reports it internally within the company and/or to the government.


Q. Who can be a whistleblower?

A. Anyone with evidence of corporate fraud or misconduct can be a whistleblower. You do not have to be a current or former employee of the company that has engaged in the fraud or misconduct, and it is not necessary to have witnessed the fraud or misconduct firsthand.


Q. Is a whistleblower protected under the law?

A. There are numerous laws that protect whistleblowers. The most commonly used whistleblower law is the False Claims Act (both the federal and numerous state versions) which covers whistleblower claims relating to corporate fraud or misconduct that causes a financial loss to the government. The recently enacted Dodd-Frank/ Wall Street Reform Act is also a commonly used whistleblower provision. It covers whistleblower claims relating to fraud or misconduct in the sale or trading of securities or commodities. The Internal Revenue Service also has a version of the False Claims Act which covers whistleblower claims relating to tax fraud.

Each of these laws provides financial rewards for whistleblowers who bring claims that are successfully acted upon by the government. They also provide protections to whistleblowers from retaliation — through firings, demotions or other adverse employee actions — for reporting misconduct. In addition to these key whistleblower laws, there are numerous industry specific whistleblower laws that protect employees against retaliation for reporting on fraud or misconduct in that industry. These whistleblower laws relate to: consumer finance protection, consumer products safety, food product safety, environmental protection, nuclear safety, federal employee protection, the military, employment discrimination, airline safety, transportation safety, pipeline safety, mine safety, and maritime safety.

For more information on the False Claims Act and the conduct it covers, please click here. For more information on the Dodd-Frank Act and the conduct it covers, please click here. For more information on the industry specific whistleblower laws, please click here.


Q. What kind of evidence must a whistleblower have?

A. A whistleblower need not have witnessed the challenged fraud or misconduct but he or she must have concrete and specific evidence of the fraud. Mere suspicion or belief is not enough. Documentary evidence is not necessary but greatly supports a whistleblower claim. So does being able to identify the who, what, where, when, why and how of the challenged fraud or misconduct. Excluding certain narrow exceptions, the evidence must also be original, meaning it cannot be based on information found in publicly available sources such as the Internet, a newspaper, television, a court or Congressional record, or a government agency report.


Q. Should a whistleblower report to the government?

A. A whistleblower can report the fraud or misconduct internally within the company (assuming the whistleblower is an employee), can report the fraud to the appropriate government agency (usually the U.S. Attorney’s Office where the employee or company resides), or can report both internally and to the government. A whistleblower who does not report to the government cannot be eligible for any whistleblower reward. However, the whistleblower may still be eligible for certain protections against retaliation afforded in many of the whistleblower statutes. The decision on whether a whistleblower should report internally, to the government or both depends on the particular circumstances at issue, including such things as the nature of the fraud or misconduct alleged, the relationship between the whistleblower and the company that engaged in the alleged fraud, the strength and integrity of any corporate compliance program the company has, the desire of the whistleblower to maintain anonymity, the risk of retaliation, and the desire for a whistleblower reward.

To speak with one of our whistleblower lawyers, click here to contact us.


Q. What type of fraud or misconduct is covered by the whistleblower laws?

A. The laws set up to protect and reward whistleblowers basically cover three forms of corporate fraud or misconduct: (i) conduct that causes a financial loss to the government (in the case of the False Claims Act and related statutes); (ii) conduct that causes harm to investors from securities or commodities fraud (in the case of the Dodd-Frank Act); and (iii) conduct that causes harm to specific employees or the public at large (in the case of the numerous industry specific whistleblower laws designed to protect the environment, financial markets, employee health and safety, consumer welfare, etc.).

For more information on the False Claims Act and the conduct it covers, please click here. For more information on the Dodd-Frank Act and the conduct it covers, please click here. For more information on the industry specific whistleblower laws, please click here.


Q. When should a whistleblower report the fraud or misconduct?

A. Whether reporting internally or to the government, a whistleblower should report the fraud or misconduct as soon as possible. If reporting to the government, it is important to report quickly for three reasons. First, each whistleblower law has a statute of limitations which sets a time limit by which claims of fraud must be filed with the government. If those time limits are not met, a whistleblower’s claim may become extinguished. For whistleblower claims related to retaliation or adverse employment action, a whistleblower should be particularly vigilant as the statute of limitations periods for these claims can be extremely short (sometimes as short as 30 days).

Second, in many cases, only the first whistleblower will get a reward for providing the government with information of the fraud. So, if another whistleblower reports to the government first with similar or overlapping evidence of the same fraud, the second whistleblower may become ineligible for any financial rewards for which he or she might have otherwise been eligible. Third, it is important to be on file as a whistleblower with the government to ensure that the whistleblower is covered under the various whistleblower laws that protect against retaliation.

It is also important to act quickly if reporting internally. To be covered by the anti-retaliation provisions of the various whistleblower laws, it must be clear that the retaliation was a direct result of whistleblowing activity. If that retaliation occurs before the whistleblower has formally reported the fraud, the whistleblower may have a more difficult time demonstrating that the retaliation was a direct result of the whistleblowing. Another reason to report the fraud as soon as possible is to give the company the best possible chance to address and remedy the fraud before it escalates to a more problematic or irreversible level.


Q. Is a whistleblower entitled to a financial reward?

A. Under the False Claims Act, the Dodd-Frank Act and the IRS Whistleblower Law, the whistleblowers responsible for providing the government with evidence that leads to a successful prosecution or settlement may be entitled to anywhere from 15-30% of the government’s recovery. In order to qualify for any such reward, the whistleblower must provide the government with information it does not already have and could not otherwise obtain from any publicly available source.


Q. How does a whistleblower report the fraud to the government?

A. The different whistleblower statues provide for different reporting procedures the whistleblowers must follow in reporting the fraud or misconduct to the government. Simply reporting the fraud or misconduct is not enough. The whistleblower must formally file a claim. Under the False Claims Act, this means actually filing a complaint in court and submitting it to the government along with a Disclosure Statement which sets forth the specific details and evidence of the misconduct. In contrast, under the Dodd-Frank Act, no formal complaint is filed with the court. Instead, there are specific whistleblower forms that must be filed which contain in a much more summary fashion the information surrounding the fraud or misconduct being reported.

For more information on the step-by-step process a whistleblower must undertake in reporting to the government, please click here.


Q. What happens after the whistleblower reports to the government?

A. The longest phase of the whistleblower process is typically the time it takes for the government to investigate the reported fraud or misconduct. During this period, the government will likely want to interview the whistleblower at least once. The government will also likely interview other witnesses involved in or with knowledge of the fraud or misconduct. It will also try to secure internal company documents relating to the challenged conduct and the records of the government agencies that may have been the subject of the fraud or misconduct. Under the False Claims Act, the government has sixty days under which the whistleblower’s complaint will remain under seal so that it can conduct its investigation without anyone knowing about it. At the end of this period, the government will routinely ask for multiple extensions of the seal to continue its investigation, interview additional witnesses, review documents, issue search warrants, conduct raids and coordinate with multiple government agencies. This period of investigation easily can last a year or longer. At the end of this period, the government will decide whether it wants to bring a formal legal action against the company accused of the fraud or misconduct.


Q. What happens if the government decides to pursue an action?

A. If the government decides to pursue an action (known as intervening under the False Claims Act), the whistleblower may be asked to testify at a grand jury proceeding or trial. At this point, the identity of the whistleblower will be revealed (if it hadn’t been already). The upside of this, however, is that the government succeeds in the vast majority of whistleblower cases is pursues. This means vindication for the whistleblower and a sizeable chunk of the government’s recovery.


Q. What happens if the government decides to take no action?

A. If the government decides not to pursue the case, under the Dodd-Frank Act, the whistleblower’s claims before the agency become extinguished. Under the False Claims Act, however, the whistleblower and his or her whistleblower attorneys are entitled to continue the action on behalf of the government.


Q. Is a whistleblower protected against retaliation?

A. The risk of retaliation against employee-whistleblowers is very real. There are numerous horror stories of firings, transfers, demotions or other forms of bad treatment of employees who have reported misconduct either internally or to the government. However, both federal and state whistleblower laws have significantly strengthened their confidentiality and anti-retaliation provisions. These provisions strictly protect the whistleblower from being fired or demoted or in any way discriminated against in the terms or conditions of their employment in retaliation for bringing a whistleblower claim. Under the False Claims Act, and largely followed by the other whistleblower laws, a company found to violate these anti-retaliation provisions will be required to reinstate the employee at the same level of seniority and pay two times the amount of backpay plus “special damages.”

To speak with one of our whistleblower lawyers, click here to contact us.


Q. Can a whistleblower remain anonymous?

A. Typically, a whistleblower’s identity will remain confidential during the government’s investigation of the fraud or misconduct. The Dodd-Frank Act even allows a whistleblower to make an anonymous submission through his or her whistleblower attorneys so that even the government does not discover who the whistleblower is. Eventually, if the government takes the investigation far enough, or ultimately brings a legal proceeding, the identity of the whistleblower will be revealed to the company charged with the fraud or misconduct.


Q. What if a whistleblower participated in the fraud?

A. Participating in the fraud does not automatically preclude a whistleblower from filing a claim or receiving a reward under one of the whistleblower laws. This is especially true if a whistleblower participated in the fraud unknowingly or under duress from a superior. Generally, a whistleblower will be barred from submitting a claim, or disqualified after the fact, only when the whistleblower planned or initiated the fraud or is ultimately convicted of a crime stemming from the reported fraud. It is important to note, however, that even if a whistleblower that participated in the fraud is not strictly barred from bringing a claim, he or she may be limited significantly in any reward they receive under the various whistleblower laws.


Q. What is the False Claims Act?

A. The False Claims Act is the foundation of the U.S. whistleblower system. It is by far the most commonly used statute employed by whistleblowers to report fraud or misconduct against the government. It allows private citizens, known as relators, to bring a whistleblower lawsuit on the government’s behalf and rewards them with a significant portion of any government recovery (anywhere from 15-30%). The key factor in determining whether conduct is covered by the False Claims Act is whether that conduct caused the government to suffer a financial loss. Such a loss typically arises when the government overpays for a product or service, pays for a product or service it did not receive, or pays for a product or service that is defective or otherwise different from what the government contracted to purchase. Please click here for more information on the False Claims Act and specific examples of the type of conduct covered by the Act.


Q. What is the Dodd-Frank Act?

A. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in response to the recent financial meltdown and to prevent further fraud and abuse in the securities and commodities markets. It includes whistleblower provisions to address fraud and misconduct involving publicly traded companies or in the sale and trading of securities and commodities. The type of conduct covered by these provisions include ponzi schemes, insider trading, accounting fraud, bribery, market manipulation and a whole host of other fraud and misconduct that falls within the broad scope of the securities and commodities laws. Unlike the False Claims Act, the Dodd-Frank Act covers fraud or misconduct even if it was not directed at the government nor caused a financial loss to the government. Please click here for more information on the Dodd-Frank Act, specific examples of the type of conduct covered by the Act, and key differences between Dodd-Frank and the False Claims Act.


Q. What is the IRS whistleblower law?

A. The IRS whistleblower law provides rewards of 15-30% of any government recovery to whistleblowers who provide the IRS with information relating to any tax fraud exceeding $2 million. The statute also created an IRS whistleblower office dedicated to working exclusively with whistleblowers. Since its inception, the IRS whistleblower program has been criticized for being too lax in its dealings with whistleblowers and their claims. However, the agency has recently indicated that it will become more active in its whistleblower enforcement efforts.


Q. What other whistleblower laws exist?

A. In addition to the False Claims Act, Dodd-Frank and the IRS whistleblower law, there are numerous other whistleblower laws covering virtually every industry in the country that affects or intersects with the public at large. These laws generally protect whistleblowers against retaliation for reporting fraud internally or to the government in that particular industry. These whistleblower laws relate to: consumer finance protection, consumer products safety, food product safety, environmental protection, nuclear safety, federal employee protection, the military, employment discrimination, airline safety, transportation safety, pipeline safety, mine safety, and maritime safety. For more information on these industry specific whistleblower laws, please click here.


Q. What is the role of a whistleblower lawyer?

A. Depending on what path a whistleblower decides to take, he or she may or may not need a whistleblower lawyer. However, it is strongly advisable that regardless of the path — whether reporting internally or to the government — that a whistleblower lawyer be retained as soon as possible for assistance in navigating the various options, laws and legal procedures to be followed under the whistleblower system. A whistleblower lawyer will also assist the whistleblower in taking full advantage of the numerous protections and rewards offered under the various whistleblower laws. Whistleblower lawyers often work on a contingency basis which means they will be paid only out of any recovery the whistleblower obtains from the government or the company that engaged in the fraud. This is especially true for filings made under the False Claims Act, Dodd-Frank or the IRS whistleblower law each of which offers whistleblowers generous rewards of up to 30% of any government recovery.