WITNESSING or becoming aware of fraud at your company can be stressful and confusing, and most people don’t know what to do or who to talk to. For fear of retribution, reporting wrongdoing internally often feels out of the question, regardless of one’s position in the organization. The following is a list of considerations and steps to take if you think you’ve witnessed fraud or if you’re considering getting started with a False Claims Act lawsuit.
1. Appreciate that fraud is conduct, speech, or the failure to disclose important information, in an effort to benefit at the expense of someone else. The “someone else” can include an individual, an entity, or the government.
2. Understand that to file a whistleblower suit, you do not need to have directly witnessed fraud, but you do need concrete evidence. Can you show misconduct that resulted in financial loss to the government, harm to patients, employees, investors, or other fraudulent behavior? You should have as many specific facts about the alleged misconduct as possible.
3. You may feel uncertain as to whether you have a case. The best thing is to consult a lawyer. A lawyer who makes a practice of representing whistleblowers will generally provide a free consultation and work on contingency if there is a case to be filed. Contingency means that you pay nothing unless there is a recovery.
4. Do not consult with a person or entity that is not a lawyer or a law firm. Your communications will not be protected by the attorney client privilege and non-lawyers can give poor legal advice.
5. In selecting a lawyer, you will want to find someone whom you are comfortable with. Your lawyer should have solid litigation experience and success representing whistleblowers.
6. If and when you do discuss the wrongdoings with a lawyer, remember that your conversations are confidential and you will not be obligated to file a complaint. You do not need to fear retaliation at work.
7. Understand that if you do have a case and decide to file a False Claims Act complaint, the government will likely carry out a lengthy investigation to determine whether or not they wish to intervene. During this time the complaint will be kept “under seal,” meaning no one, not even the defendant, will know about it.
8. False Claims Act investigations and lawsuits can carry on for years before resolving. Although many whistleblowers find it extremely gratifying to finally share their stories and evidence, the process can be frustrating and tiresome. Make sure you’ve thoroughly discussed your options with your lawyer before deciding to officially file the complaint and become a whistleblower.
9. If your suit is successful, you will be entitled to a reward ranging from 10-30% of the money recovered for the government. Some cases bring whistleblowers multi-million dollar bounties.
10. Remember that if you become a whistleblower you are not only doing the right thing, you are carrying on an American tradition!