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Qui Tam Actions: How Whistleblowers Are Protected When Exposing Fraud

Do you have information showing your employer is defrauding the federal government? If you do, you may be able to bring a lawsuit known as a qui tam action

A qui tam case lets the government recover money that it lost due to fraud. The person who brings the qui tam action is also entitled to a percentage of the money recovered by the government.

Many employees who know of employer fraud are reluctant to come forward with information. They fear the possible actions an employer might take in retaliation. Federal whistleblower laws carry protections for individuals who report fraud on behalf of the government.

Common Qui Tam Cases

Qui tam cases involve many different types of fraud and illegal activities that whistleblowers may discover and report to the government. 

One common area is healthcare fraud. This happens when people cheat government healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Whistleblower cases in healthcare often uncover fake billing practices, kickbacks, or unnecessary medical procedures. These actions result in the government losing a lot of money. 

Qui tam claims can also relate to other areas like defense contracting, financial services, and government contracts. There are many kinds of wrongdoing whistleblowers can reveal.

Qui Tam Whistleblower Protection

The law requires that complaints in qui tam actions are filed under seal. This protects the identity of the person who brings the complaint. The person's identity will remain secret as long as the case is under seal, but a whistleblower's identity will not remain a secret forever. 

Employers may deduce the identity of the whistleblower from the questions asked during the investigation. If the employee tried to resolve the fraud by internal means within the company, they might be identified as the source of the investigation. 

If the government decides to pursue the action beyond the investigation stage to litigation, the court will unseal the complaint. This reveals the identity of the person making the complaint.

When a whistleblower's identity is revealed, it is not unusual for the individual to be harassed or ostracized by their employer. Even sympathetic co-workers are often reluctant to associate with someone who has fallen so far out of favor with management. Many whistleblowers have also found themselves demoted, denied promotions, or even fired.

Whistleblower Rewards Built Into the False Claims Act

The federal False Claims Act (FCA) includes an incentive to bring a qui tam action. The person who brings the action (the relator) is entitled to receive an award in an amount between 15%-30% of the recovery. The court fixes the exact amount.

If the government joins in the suit and the relator is not involved in the wrongdoing or fraud, the award will be between 15%-25% of the recovery. The exact amount depends on the extent of the relator's involvement after the government intervened. If the government does not join in the suit, the award will be between 25%-30% of the recovery.

If the relator was involved in the wrongdoing, the court may reduce their recovery. This depends on the circumstances of the person's wrongdoing. If the person is convicted of a criminal action of wrongdoing, the court will deny them any award.

Whistleblower Retaliation

Federal law prohibits employers from taking retaliatory actions against employees who file suits under the FCA. Retaliatory actions include demotion, suspension, termination, or any other form of discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment.

To make a valid retaliation claim, the employee needs to show the following facts:

  • They engaged in protected activity under the FCA, in pursuing a qui tam suit
  • The employer knew about the employee's qui tam action
  • The employer retaliated against the employee because of that action

If an employee is terminated or mistreated for filing a qui tam lawsuit, they are entitled to reinstatement to their previous position with the same seniority level. 

In addition, the employee may receive two times the amount of back pay they would have received plus interest. There may also be compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the retaliation. Special damages include the costs and expenses of bringing a lawsuit, such as court costs and reasonable attorneys' fees

Any violation of the False Claims Act's anti-retaliation provisions can result in serious consequences for the employer.

Legal Help for Whistleblowers

The law protects employees who expose the fraudulent activity of their employers. If you need the protection of whistleblower laws or need legal advice about a qui tam claim, you should consult with an experienced whistleblower attorney. Doing so will ensure that your legal rights are protected under the FCA and employment laws.

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