When this is the case, the government often relies on employees sharing these kinds of details to initiate an investigation or a lawsuit against the responsible party. For this reason, whistleblowers also have protections afforded by state or federal law when it comes to their participation in protected activity.
What is a Protected Activity?
Protected activities can include disclosing the alleged fraud, testifying in the case or assisting the government with the case. A whistleblower can pursue the legal action on his or her own, but the government might also choose to intervene in the case. In the event that the government intervenes in the case, the portion of the award that the whistleblower is entitled to is reduced, although for False Claims Act cases the whistleblower could still be entitled to a portion of the overall award obtained.
Sometimes the government chooses to not intervene in these cases, enabling the whistleblower to achieve a more optimal outcome with regard to recovery of an award. In all of these cases, it can be beneficial for an employee who is curious about his or her rights to schedule a consultation with an experienced whistleblower lawyer. Many whistleblowers are hesitant to take action, despite the fact there are protections in place for those employees making a good faith effort to report illegal or fraudulent activity that involves stolen or misused government funds.
Employers are prohibited from retaliatory action, such as demoting or firing an employee who is participating in protected activity.
What Should I Do When I Suspect Fraud?
Employees or former employees who have inside information about fraud are encouraged to come forward with it. This information might become part of a government investigation into the issues or even a lawsuit against the allegedly responsible parties. For this reason, any employee who finds themselves in this situation should take it seriously and consult directly with a lawyer.
One of the first steps to take is to ensure that there’s an actual false claim. This is why it’s helpful to speak with a whistleblower lawsuit attorney first, even if you are not yet sure you will move forward with your case. An attorney who has been practicing in this field can tell you more about the strength of your case so that you can make an informed decision filing legal action.
Under the False Claims Act, a whistleblower can only recover compensation if there is good reason to believe that fraud against the government has already happened. A bookkeeper, for example, might discover that a medical practice is involved in submitting false claims to Medicare to get paid. This bookkeeper can use the evidence collected to initiate a legal claim.
A false claim only happens when a person or company cheats the federal government out of money by submitting false invoices or not paying the government money that is owed. Plenty of states also have additional programs for whistleblowers who raise concerns of fraud regarding a state agency. Claims that are made falsely in the private sector could lead to criminal charges against the responsible party, but will not meet the grounds for a whistleblower lawsuit.
Evidence in Whistleblower Lawsuits
One of the best things that a whistleblower can do is to gather evidence and to present it to an attorney first. It’s important to be aware of the risks you might face in becoming a whistleblower. The more evidence you have to show someone, the easier it will be to decide whether or not to move forward with your claim.
If your lawyer determines that you have grounds to continue, the next step is a disclosure meeting. This is a formal meeting between your attorney and the government. This is when your lawyer might reveal some of the information about the case and get a gauge on whether or not the government might get involved.
Most people might be overwhelmed by the process of starting a whistleblower claim or concerned that an attorney would cost too much. The truth is that many whistleblower lawyers do not require an upfront fee or retainer and instead will be paid if the case is successful from your portion of the award. Make sure to ask about this in your initial consultations.
Do I Really Need an Attorney?
If you find yourself in the situation of attempting to recover compensation in a whistleblower claim, sitting down with an attorney can help prepare you for the various stages of the case and can empower you with information so that you know what to expect.
Once your lawyer has sat down with the government to discuss the specifics of the case, a qui tam lawsuit can be filed under seal. This means that the company who is named in the case is not notified about it at this time. The government is instead served with that complaint.
Under the False Claims Act, the government has the chance to use a sixty-day period to conduct its investigation before formally serving the defendant with the complaint. This period is often extended to give additional time for research in the case. It can even take several years for a whistleblower lawsuit to move beyond this phase.
The government is largely looking for evidence about whether or not this case is strong enough to move forward with under government involvement. The company might become aware that an investigation is being carried out even if they have not been formally served because of how the government carries out the investigation. For this reason, it’s helpful to already have a whistleblower lawyer in place so that you can get help and have questions answered as they arise. It can be a big challenge to remain patient with the process.
Since you are unlikely familiar with how a whistleblower claim will work, rely on your attorney’s experience and insight as the case moves forward. In the event that your employer attempts to discriminate against you, you have an attorney ready to help you with a retaliation-related issue. You have legal rights as a whistleblower, and knowing where to turn to get help can eliminate a lot of your nerves over this process. Consider contacting a dedicated whistleblower attorney today to discover what’s next for you.