In movies, it is fun to cheer for the underdog who single-handedly takes down dozens of bad guys, usually without the knowledge or against the instructions of authority figures who could help them. In almost any kind of job, but especially in the bureaucracy of the local or federal government, it is easy to feel like you are the only person with any common sense or any moral compass, and you are surrounded by incompetent and corrupt people. The solution is not to try to fight the bad guys on your own, no matter how much harm they are doing to the public. In real life, successfully taking down corruption or waste of public funds on your own is less likely to happen than an action hero fighting off a warehouse full of armed bad guys with their bare hands or Super Mario single-handedly defeating King Bowser. You should speak up, but you should do it through the appropriate legal channels. The first step is to contact the Washington, D.C. whistleblower actions lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
The District Government Whistleblower Law
DC Official Code 1-615.51 contains the District Government Whistleblower Law, which pertains to employees of all District government agencies, including the D.C. Public Schools and the University of the District of Columbia, as well as subordinate agencies and independent agencies. It states that employees who become aware of violations of the law or misuse of public funds and resources at their workplace have the right and responsibility to notify their supervisors, and if the supervisors do not promptly take action to correct the violation of misuse of funds, it is grounds for dismissal of the supervisors from their jobs. Supervisors are not permitted to take retaliatory action against employees who report violations in their places of employment.
The District Government Whistleblower Law says that employees of D.C. government agencies have the right to engage in the following protected actions without fear of retaliation, and they have the right and the responsibility to report employers who retaliate against employees for engaging in these protected activities:
- Exercising the First Amendment rights to free speech and to peaceful assembly, including informing coworkers about outside-of-work gatherings related to political activities
- Disclosing corruption and incompetence in the workplace, including efforts by administrators to conceal the corruption and incompetence of their associates and colleagues
- Responding to inquiries from the Council of the District of Columbia and otherwise participating in investigations into misconduct and violations at their places of employment
- Enjoying working conditions that are conducive to productivity, including reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities
- Accessing their own personnel files or any other files at their workplace that contain information about them
In other words, if you experience or witness discrimination, corruption, or illegal activity, you can and should speak up about it, but you should do so with the help and guidance of a Washington, D.C. whistleblower actions lawyer.
Retaliation Against Whistleblowers and Remedies Available to Whistleblowers Who Experience Retaliation
Whether you work in the public sector or the private sector, the law protects you from retaliation by your employer when you report wrongdoing by your employer to the relevant regulatory body or to law enforcement. Unfortunately, though, trying to resolve matters directly with your supervisor or with your employer’s human resources department often results in retaliation. This is why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives so many complaints about retaliation, even though its ostensible purpose is to handle complaints about racial and gender discrimination, sexual harassments, requests for reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and other manifestations of employment discrimination. Meanwhile, when employees notify the EEOC about discrimination in the workplace, more often than not, it is because the employer retaliated against the employee who reported the discrimination. In other words, more than half of the discrimination complaints the EEOC receives are about employers retaliating against employees who report discrimination.
The Federal False Claims Act and Qui Tam Actions
The federal False Claims Act applies to a specific kind of misconduct, specifically, when businesses defraud the federal government by sending falsified invoices and claims or goods they have sold to government entities or services they have rendered to the government. President Lincoln enacted the False Claims Act in 1863 to address the problem of private businesses selling supplies to the U.S. Army for inflated prices and knowingly selling defective goods to the Army. The False Claims Act enables a whistleblower, that is, an employee of a company that is defrauding the government, to notify the Department of Justice without fear of retaliation. If, after investigating the whistleblower’s report, the DOJ decides to sue the whistleblower’s employer, the whistleblower gets to keep a percentage of the damages the employer must pay. This is called a qui tam action because the whistleblower acts as an additional plaintiff in the case.
Today, employees of companies that provide goods and services to the Armed Forces still make up a portion of qui tam whistleblowers, as they did during the Civil War. A greater portion of qui tam actions in recent years, however, relate to Medicare and Medicaid fraud; employees of hospitals and doctor’s offices report that their employers are billing Medicare and Medicaid for services never rendered or for medically unnecessary treatments and tests.
In general, the law protects whistleblowers who risk retaliation by reporting actions by their employers that cause financial harm to taxpayers or that risk the physical safety of members of the public. Although your employer is legally required not to retaliate against you for telling the truth about the misconduct you have witnessed at your workplace, things can get ugly when you are the only person in your work environment who is trying to correct widespread corruption. The procedures for engaging in a whistleblower action vary according to the nature of the work and the nature of the violation you are trying to report. A whistleblower actions lawyer can help you decide the best course of action in your case.
Contact a Washington, D.C. Employment Lawyer About Whistleblower Actions
An employment lawyer can help you report corrupt and illegal activity in your workplace while protecting your own legal rights. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Washington, D.C. to set up a consultation.