Our whistleblower attorneys frequently encounter individuals that are working for a company and have discovered fraud or legal violations committed by one or more other employees of the business. The person wants to tell the government, but does not want the fact that they were the whistleblower to become known by their present employer, co-workers, future employers, industry contacts and friends.
It is a difficult situation for the individual. They want to do the right thing. But there are risks to a whistleblower’s career. And they (you) want to keep their (your) job.
Here is a bit of friendly advice on the subject. Every program is different, but this should apply across the board:
- Don’t rely on the company’s internal policy on whistleblowers or the promise of retaliation protections.
If you want to keep your job, you can’t rely on the company to uphold its promise to protect whistleblowers or the law which provides compensation after a whistleblower is fired. Plenty of companies have fired whistleblowers despite the law and their own internal policy. Accept it.
- Don’t make an internal tip or objection.
There have been several cases where a company automatically assumes that a government investigation is the result of whatever employee complained the loudest about the policy before the government pursues its enforcement action. It is best not to be that person to stay on their good side.
- Find a whistleblower lawyer.
Every whistleblower needs someone who has been through the process before and will keep them from making mistakes.
- Don’t tell anyone other than your lawyer.
There are ways to minimize the number of people that are aware of your whistleblower status. But none of them work if the whistleblower tells someone. Don’t get close to someone at work and confide in them as a friend. Don’t get a chip on your shoulder about the company’s practice and tell them later that you have blown the whistle. Don’t send an email accidentally to the wrong place. Or send an email from a company computer (but your personal email) about the case. Lock it in a box and forget about it.
- Be prepared to walk away.
Even in the SEC and CFTC programs, which allow anonymous reporting, there may come a time when you are asked to break silence. If the case is going to trial, they may ask you to testify. If you want to stay employed at a company that you report, you may have to walk away from the possibility of a reward at some point to protect your identity.
- Start looking for a new job.
The best way to keep your job is to have a different job if the news happens to break. Your present employer is likely to be more understanding than the organization that you reported for breaking the law. So start looking for a new job. For most whistleblowers, this is natural because they don’t want to work in the place that is ethically bankrupt. But we understand that the money is hard to pass up.