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Last year was a busy one for corporate insiders exposing wrongdoing. Spurred by large SEC whistleblower awards and stronger interpretations of federal laws protecting whistleblowers, 2016 saw major developments when it came to calling out corporate rule breaking. That even includes one in-house attorney turned whistleblower.
So, here are our top six whistleblower stories of the year, taken from the (recent) FindLaw archives.
Last summer saw the second biggest SEC whistleblower award ever, $17 million awarded to an anonymous individual who helped expose securities fraud. The award, made as part of the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program, followed the SEC's giant $30 million award made in 2014.
The SEC broke its second-place record just a few months later, giving $22 million to a Monsanto executive who revealed improper accounting practices in the company. Two huge awards in such a short period showed what potential big benefits could be in store for big tipsters.
A former in-house attorney got support from the SEC in April, after having revealed his employer's alleged underpayment of state and federal taxes. David Danon filed an anonymous complaint against his employer, accusing it of skipping out on about $1 billion in taxes. After he was fired, he sued, but his case dismissed over supposed violation of client confidentiality and privilege rules. That's when the SEC stepped in, intervening in Danon's case to argue that he should be given whistleblower protections.
While the federal government was encouraging potential whistleblowers with massive awards, it was also taking action against corporate policies that could be seen as limiting employee cooperation with investigators. That includes confidentiality clauses without exceptions for participating in investigations, so-called "pretaliation" provisions. And it's not just the SEC this time. OSHA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrative have adopted similar positions.
After taking on corporate confidentiality agreements, the SEC looked to severance agreements, taking action against agreements that might impede former workers from communicating with the commission.
In September, OSHA released new guidance that clamped down on the provisions that can be included on OSHA-approved settlements. In revisions to its Whistleblower Investigations Manual, the agency refused to approve settlements with "de fact gag order provisions" that could restrict future whistleblowing.
If 2016 saw a strengthening of whistleblower protections and an increase in large whistleblower awards, what will the future bring under a new president?
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