If you have witnessed fraud or illegal activity in your company and believe there is sufficient grounds and evidence to report it to the authorities, then you need to fully understand the process and possible consequences of your actions. It takes courage, research, and risk to blow the whistle on your company; while there is a possible reward, you have to remember that there is a chance of losing your job, or even being prosecuted in the process.
Whistleblower laws are incredibly complicated – there is no single protective law – they vary from state to state, and you need to be sure of what kind of protection whistleblowers have in your home state. The Mississippi Code 25-9-171, et seq. states that employers cannot "dismiss or otherwise adversely affect the compensation or employment status if employee testifies or provides information to an investigative body". In essence, your job should be fairly secure, however, there are a number of cases in which you could actually be prosecuted due to your involvement in a qui tam claim.
A government entity can take action against an employee in the case that they knowingly provided false information, they are found to have engaged in improper conduct in the course of acquiring information, or if it is found that they have been directly involved or benefited from the fraudulent behavior of their employers.
If you are thinking about bringing a qui tam lawsuit against your employers then it’s best that you arm yourself with comprehensive information on what to expect. You can download our Essential Guidance on Qui Tam and Whistleblower Lawsuits in order to effectively understand the risks and rewards that you will face as a whistleblower.
Cases in Which Whistleblowers Can be Prosecuted
There has been a number of cases around the country in which the relator in the qui tam lawsuit has been prosecuted due to some kind of unethical conduct or oversight in the process of bringing the claim against their employers.
If you suspect your company of fraudulent activity such as false billing, services ordered and not rendered, expensive equipment billed for and lesser equipment delivered in its place, prescriptions written for higher doses when the patient only got half the dosage etc. then reporting them to the authorities is the right thing to do. However, you need to ensure that you don’t step into the firing line in the process.
These are most common situations in which you are likely to be prosecuted:
Providing false information
Most whistleblowers are selfless; they risk their own livelihood and intimidation in order to do what they think is right. However, not all realtors are the same and some will falsify information in order to bring down CEOs, or other employees through greed, revenge, and to further their own careers.
Even if you know beyond a doubt that your employer, or company, is engaged in fraudulent activities – don’t be tempted to create rumours, falsify information, or fake documents in order to bring them to book. By providing false information you are opening yourself up to a lawsuit, and there is nothing to stop a government entity from prosecuting you on these grounds.
Doctrine of unclean hands
This is one of the most complicated facets of a qui tam lawsuit in which there is often confusion and even hypocrisy when it comes to doing the right thing in the most legal manner. Employees that suspect their company of fraudulent activity are often incentivized by the regime to collect information from the business that is often confidential and strictly for internal purposes. However, the very same employees can also be prosecuted for publicly releasing these confidential business documents.
The case of Yvonne Saavedra is a good example of this scenario. The New Jersey based whistleblower accused her employer of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and sex. In the process of gathering evidence she “removed the files of 367 highly confidential original and photocopied student educational and medical records, including a bank statement of a parent submitted to the Board to prove residency, documents that included the names of children being treated by a psychiatrist and letters concerning special education services provided to children.”
After this came to light in the claim, Saavedra was indicted and faced charges of official misconduct and theft by violating the law in taking the documents.
Knowingly benefitting from the fraud
In qui tam lawsuits the defendants (if found guilty) are usually fined a huge sum of money, are likely to lose their jobs, and in some cases stand to receive jail time for their actions. If you are thinking of blowing the whistle on your company, you need to ensure that you had no previous benefits from the fraudulent activity that you were knowingly aware of.
If you were benefiting from the criminal schemes before you decided to report your company, then you stand to face similar charges to those you are bringing the charges against.
Hire a Capable Law Firm
Before you report your company for their fraudulent activities, it is in your best interest to hire a law firm that has experience in whistleblowing. They will be able to assist you in understanding the limitations of your lawsuit, protect you from employer retaliation, help you to gather evidence legally, and will assist you throughout the lawsuit process.
If you suspect fraud in your workplace, gather as much proof as you legally can and then contact us at Coxwell & Associates. We have over 36 years of experience in winning whistleblowing cases, and as such we are well positioned to advise and represent you throughout your qui tam lawsuit.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.