What Happens if a Whistleblower is Wrong?
Whistleblowers play an important role in the federal government’s law enforcement efforts. Even with their vast resources, agencies like the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) still rely on the public to expose wrongdoing in many cases.
If you believe that you may have information about fraud or other wrongdoing, you are right to be thinking about blowing the whistle. But, quite understandably, you may also be hesitant to do so. Exposing your employer or another company is a big step, and you may not be 100% sure that federal law enforcement action is warranted.
This is completely fine.
As a whistleblower, it is okay to be wrong. Once you qualify for whistleblower protections, you are protected regardless of whether your information leads to civil or criminal charges. The federal whistleblower statutes make this clear, and you will be protected from retaliation as long as you bring your information forward in good faith.
Understanding What It Means to Blow the Whistle
To see that this is the case, we can look at the language of the whistleblower statutes themselves. We’ll take the federal Whistleblower Protection Act (41 U.S.C. Section 4712) as an example. The Whistleblower Protection Act applies to employees of certain federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and federal agencies, and it provides protection as follows:
“An employee . . . may not be discharged, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against as a reprisal for disclosing to a person or body described in [this statute] information that the employee reasonably believes is evidence of gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant, a gross waste of Federal funds, an abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant, a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant.”
The key phrase in this section of the Whistleblower Protection Act is, “reasonably believes.” If whistleblowers always had to be right, the statute would use a word like, “knows,” instead. But, as a whistleblower, you don’t have to know for certain that the information you are providing to the government establishes liability for civil wrongdoing or a federal crime. Instead, all that is required is that you “reasonably believe” the information may be capable of serving as evidence in a federal enforcement case.
This also makes sense when we look at the purpose of the federal whistleblower statutes. These statutes are designed to help the government take action against fraud and other forms of wrongdoing. As such, they are designed to encourage potential whistleblowers to come forward. If potential whistleblowers could face consequences for being wrong, then the federal whistleblower statutes wouldn’t serve their intended purpose. Far fewer people would come forward, and far fewer wrongdoers would be held accountable.
Being Wrong is Not the Same Thing as Being Malicious
To be clear, while the Whistleblower Protection Act and other federal whistleblower statutes protect individuals whose information turns out to be wrong (or insufficient to substantiate federal charges), they do not protect individuals who submit false information out of malice. Again, the key is that you must have a “reasonable belief” that fraud or other wrongdoing has been committed. Whistleblowers can face consequences for submitting false and fraudulent claims of their own—but this is very different from being wrong.
Making Informed Decisions as a Potential Federal Whistleblower
As a potential federal whistleblower, one of the best things you can do is speak with an experienced whistleblower lawyer. At Oberheiden P.C., we have extensive experience working with federal whistleblowers. We can evaluate the information you have in your possession; and, based on our experience, we can advise you as to whether it makes sense for you to come forward.
We offer the following services to all potential federal whistleblowers:
- No Out-of-Pocket Cost Legal Representation – We represent all federal whistleblowers at no out-of-pocket cost. Your consultation is 100% free, and we are happy to work with you until you have the information you need to make an informed decision. If you decide not to move forward, you owe us nothing. If you decide to file a whistleblower complaint, our legal fees (if any) will be calculated as a percentage of any award you receive from the federal government.
- Strict Confidentiality – We will maintain your identity and all information you share with us in strict confidence. We will not share it with anyone—including the federal government—unless and until you authorize us to do so. We are your advocates, and we are here to help protect you while you do your part to help the government.
- Thorough Evaluation of Whistleblowers’ Information – We will thoroughly evaluate the information you have in your possession to determine if it warrants filing a whistleblower complaint. Our attorneys include former U.S. Attorneys and Assistant U.S. Attorneys who used to investigate whistleblower complaints on behalf of the federal government. As a result, we have a clear understanding of the information that is needed to substantiate allegations of federal wrongdoing, and can tell you whether we believe it makes sense to move forward.
- Advice Regarding Gathering Additional Information – Many potential whistleblowers have questions about what additional information they can (and should) gather. In many cases, no additional information is necessary. The information you submit to the government doesn’t need to be enough to prove civil or criminal wrongdoing on its own—and the government can use its investigative tools and resources to gather any additional information that is necessary. If we think the government will require more in order to act on the information you have currently, we can advise you regarding what to do (and what not to do) in this situation as well.
- Working with the Federal Government – Finally, if you decide to come forward, we will work with the federal government on your behalf. We will prepare your whistleblower complaint, and we will outline in detail why you are entitled to whistleblower protection. If federal agents or prosecutors have additional questions, we will work with you to provide any additional information you may be able to provide.
Many of the individuals who contact us don’t know whether they qualify as a whistleblower. If you have suspicions or concerns, you should not ignore them. Even if you aren’t sure whether the information you have warrants legal action, you should speak with a whistleblower attorney—as there is no harm in making sure you make an informed decision.
FAQs: Deciding Whether to Become a Federal Whistleblower
How do I know if the information I have makes me a whistleblower?
Knowing if you qualify as a federal whistleblower isn’t easy. Different federal statutes establish different requirements for securing whistleblower protection. To make an informed decision, you should consult with an experienced lawyer about the specific requirements (and protections) that apply based on the information you have in your possession.
How much proof do I need to file a whistleblower complaint?
The answer to this question also varies; but, generally speaking, you do not need to have all of the evidence the federal government needs to prove a civil or criminal violation. Instead, the information you have must be capable of serving as evidence in support of a federal investigation.
What happens if the government doesn’t act on the information I provide?
Even if the government doesn’t act on the information you provide, you are still entitled to protection as a whistleblower as long as you meet the applicable statutory requirements. Our lawyers can take all of the steps necessary to establish your status as a whistleblower before submitting your complaint to the government.
If I am wrong, will I still receive protection as a whistleblower?
Yes, even if the information you submit turns out not to be evidence of wrongdoing, you will still receive protection as a whistleblower (as long as you otherwise qualify). Again, our lawyers can make sure you qualify before assisting you with coming forward, and we can use our federal litigation experience to assess whether the information you have warrants civil or criminal enforcement action.
Can a whistleblower lawyer help me decide whether to come forward?
Yes, a big part of what we do as whistleblower lawyers is helping individuals decide whether to come forward. As former U.S. Attorneys and Assistant U.S. Attorneys, many of our lawyers have experience evaluating whistleblower complaints for the federal government, and we rely on their insights to help potential whistleblowers make informed decisions.
Schedule a Free and Confidential Consultation with a Whistleblower Lawyer at Oberheiden P.C.
If you would like to speak with a whistleblower attorney about possibly coming forward, we invite you to schedule a free and confidential consultation at Oberheiden P.C. To schedule an appointment at a time that is convenient for you, please call 888-680-1745 or tell us how we can reach you online today.