The Securities and Exchange Commission is enforcing whistleblower protections provided within the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It wants employers in Wisconsin and across the country to observe whistleblower protections in its employee contracts and agreements. The commission has requested documents from numerous companies in an effort to identify violations within confidentiality agreements, employment contracts and non-disclosure agreements.
Wisconsin readers who follow workplace issues may be interested in a recent decision regarding retaliation against a whistleblower. A U.S. Postal Service worker will receive nearly $230,000 in damages for retaliation that he suffered after advising a co-worker to report health concerns to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The worker filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA after being subjected to a hostile work environment.
Wisconsin workers may be familiar with the term "whistleblower," which refers to a person who blows the whistle on an employer who is engaged in illegal activity. One type of whistleblower action that an employee may bring against an employer is a qui tam action. Qui tam actions are lawsuits alleging that the government has suffered harm at the hands of an individual or a corporation that filed false claims. The False Claims Act, a federal law, incentivizes individuals to alert the government of such illegal conduct by offering individuals a percentage of any award that results from the lawsuit being successfully prosecuted.
Wisconsin workers employed in the food industry may be interested in the protection they have under federal law if they should bring an issue of concern forward. Those who are engaged in the processing, packing, distribution or holding of food, among other activities, are protected from retaliation if they highlight a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Wisconsin residents might be interested to learn about a settlement that was reached in a false country of origin lawsuit involving medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew. On Sept. 3, the London-based company agreed to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. government by paying $11.3 million in damages. In 2008, the company was accused of selling Malaysian-made orthopedic devices to the Department of Veterans Affairs and falsely claiming they were made in the United States.
Wisconsin employees who have made certain reports about an employer's activities may be protected by state and federal law. The types of protection that are available are based on the type of claim that was made, the employer's identification, state law and case law. Additionally, contract or tort causes of action may be available for an employee who was retaliated against.
In a scandal that affects facilities in Wisconsin and across the nation, the Office of Special Counsel is looking into 37 claims of retaliation against those who reported problems at the Veterans Affairs Department. The alleged whistleblower incidents have occurred at VA facilities across 19 states. Employees claim they have suffered retaliation after reporting incidents that include poor handling of money, not following scheduling procedures and the inappropriate restraint of patients.
The term "whistleblower" elicits varying reactions from different people. Some individuals applaud a whistleblower for speaking up about an injustice he or she may have witnessed at an organization. However, others view the person as a betrayer. Either way, this individual legally cannot be punished for uncovering unfavorable information about a company; however, this situation is common nationwide, and when it occurs, the mistreated employee has the right to seek legal recourse by filing a claim against the employer in Wisconsin.
The False Claims Act, including its qui tam whistleblower provisions, is a federal law that was enacted by Congress during the Administration of President Abraham Lincoln to address rampant fraud on the Union Army. To protect witnesses of fraud and reward whistleblower action, Congress included qui tam provisions in the False Claims Act. Wisconsin whistleblowers' rights are protected under these laws. Recently, six whistleblowers collected a large settlement for coming forward in a Johnson & Johnson case.
It's rarely easy for employees to make the decision to file whistleblower suits against the companies for which they work. Many understandably fear that they will have to face retaliation from their employers. However, Wisconsin and federal law provide protections for a whistleblower claim, especially when it has to do with the False Claims Act. Under this law, those who hold government contracts can face lawsuits filed by citizens on behalf of the government if the citizens can show evidence of fraud.