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We get a lot of great questions about whistleblower laws in Illinois. Here is a a summary of some questions that we have received over the years.
I have heard the term “whistleblower,” but what exactly does that mean?
A simple definition of a whistleblower is someone who comes forward with information on improper conduct that a person or organization is trying to keep secret. Often a whistleblower works inside of the organization where the wrongdoing is happening, but that is not always the case.
What makes a person step forward and “blow the whistle?”
A whistleblower is usually stepping forward to right a wrong and/or protect people. They have witnessed or are aware of abuse, corruption, fraud, waste or dangers to public health and safety. In most cases, the whistleblower is courageous in speaking up and doing the right thing.
I’ve heard about whistleblower situations involving the government. Are there situations outside of that?
Yes, most definitely. There are many whistleblower cases involving employees in private businesses and organizations.
Can you give me an example of a situation involving a whistleblower at a company? What was the outcome?
Sure. Recently, Biogen Inc., a biotech company, agreed to a $900 million dollar deal to resolve a whistleblower lawsuit (brought by a former employee) which accused the company of paying doctors kickbacks to prescribe their multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs. The kickbacks included fake speaker programs and consulting deals, extravagant dinners and other entertainment. There is only a small number of medications approved to treat MS, and these drugs are pricey. Paying doctors kickbacks allowed Biogen to boost sales of their drugs and compete in this small market. If you are a patient with MS, do you want your doctor prescribing the best drug for you? Or prescribing the one that will get them a fancy dinner and some extra cash in their pocket?
I heard the phrase Qui Tam. What is that?
Qui tam literally means “n the name of the king. Under the False Claims Act, qui tam allows persons and entities with evidence of fraud against federal programs or contracts to sue the wrongdoer on behalf of the United States Government. Typically the US Attorney has to be given the chance to bring the case first.
What are the risks involved with being a whistleblower? Are there laws to protect the whistleblower?
Under the Department of Labor’s whistleblower protection laws, an employer cannot retaliate against the whistleblower, meaning the employer cannot fire, lay off, or demote him/her. The employer cannot deny overtime or a promotion, or reduce the whistleblower’s pay or hours. That said, it is best to consult with an attorney who specializes in these cases to fully understand one’s rights and to get a game plan together.
What are the benefits of being a whistleblower?
Aside from stopping often illegal and at best shady behavior, most successful whistleblower lawsuits lead to large financial payouts to the person who blew the whistle. Quite often this means many millions of dollars.
What if I know of some corporate wrongdoing and want to blow the whistle?
As we mentioned, it is critical to speak with a lawyer who knows the laws backwards and forwards and has handled these cases successfully many times. Contact us any time to explain your situation confidentially and learn your options.