Anyone with insider knowledge who identifies and exposes defrauding, stealing and cheating government programs can file a qui tam lawsuit. This led to 598 lawsuits on behalf of the government in 2021, which recovered $5.6 billion in judgments under the False Claim Act (FCA). The False Claims Act is broad reaching in scope. Still, it is essential to note that it protects whistleblowers (whether employees or outside a company) as they collect information in preparation for their lawsuits involving FCA violations.
The protections for the relator who files the qui tam lawsuit include retaliation. Regardless of the case’s outcome, the individual or group who raised the alarm need not win their claim to receive protection as long as they reasonably believe there was fraud involving the federal government.
Whistleblowers cite retaliation as part of their case, but they may also file a separate case whose outcome is independent of the qui tam lawsuit.
It is also worth noting that qui tam lawsuits are secret — known as “under seal” — for 60 days as the government investigates the alleged fraud. Even if the relator is identified afterward, the FCA states that the whistleblower cannot be retaliated against, which they define as dismissal, discrimination or harassment. They likely also get their job back (with double back pay) if they choose, and their legal fees are covered.
Those concerned about sharing their information with the government or filing a qui tam can often find it useful to consult with an attorney representing whistleblowers. These legal professionals provide another layer of protection as they guide their client through the entire process, regardless of whether the relator gets 15-30% of the fines and penalties levied by the government or the qui tam lawsuit was unsuccessful.