Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but we must take it because our conscience tells us that it is right.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two years ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously declared July 30, 2013 as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day” to call attention to the men and women who risk their careers, reputations, and sometimes even their lives by calling out fraud, abuse, waste, and other illegal activity.
The date, reaffirmed by the Senate in 2014, marks the first time in the history of the United States that the unique and valuable role of whistleblowers was officially recognized. On July 30, 1778, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to establish rules of self-governance that would help a young nation in the throes of revolution to move forward. On that day, the Founding Fathers wrote:
“That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
Today, whistleblower advocates, led by the National Whistleblower Center, are urging Congress to permanently recognize July 30 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.
Since that first whistleblower reference in 1778, Congress has enacted several laws to encourage would-be whistleblowers to report fraud and other misconduct and to shield them as much as possible from retaliation.
The False Claims Act was the nation’s very first law adopted specifically to protect whistleblowers. Congress passed the Act in 1863 to combat fraud committed by suppliers of the federal government during the American Civil War. It accomplishes this by providing significant incentives to whistleblowers, including awards based on a percentage of the amount recovered and protections from retaliation by employers.
By revising the False Claims Act in 1986, Congress sharpened the sword and made the Act one of the government’s most effective weapons in combating fraud and other wrongdoing. The False Claims Act authorizes private citizens to sue on behalf of the federal government when they possess credible, original information about fraud targeting taxpayer-funded agencies and programs.
Whistleblowers in the financial sector can turn to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Office of the Whistleblower. Established in 2011 by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the SEC’s whistleblower program is the nation’s youngest whistleblower program but has already become an indispensable tool in finding and prosecuting financial fraud.
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was enacted specifically to protect whistleblowers who work for the federal government and report agency misconduct.
Many industries also have their own industry-specific whistleblower laws and protections. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees across various industries who report safety and health violations.
In commemorating whistleblowers, the U.S. Senate vowed the federal government would uphold the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers by:
(A) informing employees, contractors working on behalf of United States taxpayers, and members of the public about the legal rights of citizens of the United States to blow the whistle; and
(B) acknowledging the contributions of whistleblowers to combating waste, fraud, abuse, and violations of laws and regulations in the United States
Stephen Kohn, director of the National Whistleblower Center, called upon U.S. citizens “to reflect on these past sacrifices and accomplishments and show support for the whistleblowers today who are fighting to defend their reputations, their jobs and their freedom after exposing lies at the highest levels of government and frauds that have robbed tax-payers and investors of countless billions.”
For more information on whistleblower laws and protections, visit our Whistleblower information page. Beasley Allen lawyers are dedicated to providing confidential assistance to those who feel they may have a whistleblower claim. Email Lance.Gould@beasleyallen.com, Andrew.Brashier@beasleyallen.com, Archie.Grubb@beasleyallen.com or Larry.Golston@beasleyallen.com for more information or assistance.