The stature of a whistleblower is often in the eyes of the beholder. One person’s traitor is another person’s hero. Those who choose to go public with their information will also face a lot of scrutiny, which not only can be invasive for them but also those around them. With this all in mind, workers who undertake these acts of conscience may want to examine their reasons for doing it.
Issues to consider before doing it
Here are five questions that can help prepare a potential whistleblower for what comes next:
- Am I comfortable with people finding out? Some laws enable whistleblowers to remain anonymous. Nevertheless, people may still find out or at least suspect who the whistleblower is. Moreover, those who plan to claim a reward in a qui tam lawsuit are required to disclose their identity.
- Did I share information with my employer before going to the government? It generally is better to do this. It lends credibility to the whistleblower if they alerted the company about an issue and thus enabled them to address it. If the company does nothing or attempts subterfuge, the whistleblower can then act with a clearer conscience.
- Am I entitled to claim a reward? The SEC or others will need to regard the information as valuable. Also, the whistleblower may be ineligible for a reward because of their job description, being convicted of a similar criminal violation or did not follow protocols that the agency requires.
- Can I live with the consequences? The whistleblower should be prepared for anything, including investigation beyond the scope of your initial disclosure and the ramifications of that investigation.
- Will I use the resources needed to claim my reward? Reporting an issue to the SEC does not mean a reward. There may be an interview process that could bring in other agencies like the FBI. It is also wise to consult with legal counsel before alerting the authorities, which can mean more expenses upfront.
It’s different than the movies
There have been many great movies involving whistleblowers – “All the President’s Men,” “Serpico” and “The Insider” are popular favorites. But the reality was different for the real-life whistleblowers. These five questions are meant to both prepare a whistleblower for what they may face and enable them to weigh the pros and cons of doing it.
Discussing these issues concerning your specific circumstances with an attorney who handles whistleblower cases is an excellent first step. It will help avoid early missteps and provide knowledgeable guidance if they choose to move forward.