The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Protecting Yourself When Exposing Wrongs: Anonymity and Us Whistleblower Laws

You may have something important to say, but you're worried about the consequences. What if you disclose this information and you're identified as the whistleblower? Can you be sure that your identity will be protected? In this post, we'll discuss whistleblower laws in the United States and how they protect anonymous whistleblowers. We'll also talk about some of the risks associated with whistleblowing and how to reduce those risks. If you have information about wrongdoing that you want to share, read on to learn more about US whistleblower laws and protections

According to a study from the Bradley University Center for Cybersecurity, nearly two-thirds of the whistleblowers who were surveyed experienced some form of retaliation including termination, forced retirement, negative performance evaluation, social ostracism, and blacklisting from other jobs in their field. The best way for a whistleblower to prevent retaliation is to remain anonymous. If your company does not know who you are, it will be harder for them to retaliate.

In the Public Sector, federal employees can confidentially disclose allegations of misconduct or gross mismanagement, abuse of authority to the appropriate authorities through the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Under the WPA a whistleblower’s identity must be protected unless the employee in the disclosure consents to reveal their identity. This act also safeguards whistleblowers from retaliation.

Now in the private sector, different laws apply depending on the industry at hand and the type of fraud being reported. Thanks to several federal laws and agencies, whistleblowers may report their allegations safely and be protected from retaliation. Information can be reported in a confidential way and whistleblowers may be entitled to receive rewards for blowing the whistle. For example, when litigating claims of fraud on behalf of the government, often known as a qui tam action, whistleblowers may confidentially submit complaints under the False Claim Act (FCA). The FCA does not have an explicit provision that protects anonymity, but any disclosure made under the FCA will be filed “under seal”, which means in secret or out of the public eye. If the whistleblower's identity becomes revealed and an employer retaliates against the whistleblower, the whistleblower will be protected under the FCA from such retaliation by allowing the whistleblower to sue their employer for redress.

The Security Exchange Commission's (SEC) rewards rulings aim to protect the identity of the whistleblower.

The SEC Office of the Whistleblower has been one of the most successful whistleblower programs with more than $720 million awarded to whistleblowers since its creation in 2011 under the Dodd-Frank Act. The SEC is also committed to protecting the identities of the whistleblowers making disclosures to the agency under its Rule 21F-7. This rule requires the SEC not to disclose the whistleblower information that could reasonably be expected to reveal his identity. On the other hand, the CFTC will only disclose a whistleblower’s identity in certain circumstances in accordance with the Privacy Act and authorized by the Commodity Exchange Act. The CFTC holds that it will not identify a whistleblower without its consent. The information provided by the whistleblower will be treated as non-public and confidential.

The IRS does not guarantee anonymous filings by whistleblowers. According to their IRS website, it will though protect the identity of the whistleblower to the fullest extent permitted under law. Once a whistleblower submits a claim, they will only be able to know the status of the claim but not any action taken in the case by the agency.

The importance of remaining anonymous plays a big role in the decision of whistleblowers to blow to whistle. Some whistleblowers are afraid of suffering negative repercussions after being named as whistleblowers. It is important to stress that remaining anonymous does not mean that other people won’t suspect who is the source of the information in many cases. So, the confidentiality measures taken by the different agencies and their whistleblower programs are crucial. And even if a whistleblower's identity becomes revealed, there is are plenty of laws on the books protecting whistleblowers from retaliation.

In light of the information above, if you have knowledge of wrongdoing taking place in your company, it is important to understand your rights and protections under federal law. The risks may be high, but so are the potential rewards. And remember, several federal laws and agencies offer whistleblower protections and rewards. If you have any questions about whistleblowing retaliation or would like more information on the confidentiality protections, please contact us. We can help guide you through the process and connect you with experienced whistleblower layers who can represent you if necessary.