Sometimes it is too easy for lawyers and commentators to opine about the law and avoid the real life implications of those laws as applied to individuals. This is especially true for whistleblower protection laws when the potential whistleblower is a current employee of a corporation committing fraud. Lets say for example, you work for a corporation and become aware of facts that may amount to securities fraud or corporate misconduct. While a whistleblower lawyer may say, “wow this is a great case,” you are probably asking more real life questions such as “will I get fired?” Or, “will my kids lose their health insurance?” Put simply, these questions can be summarized into one overarching question, “what protections do I and my family have if I do the right thing?”
This blog article cannot completely answer that question. In fact no web article can. The answer depends on many variables, including, the laws of the state in which you reside, the nature of the misconduct, your employers internal reaction when you come forward and how fast you react when you learn of the facts underlying this misconduct.
Here are three practical tips to consider if you find yourself in this situation:
Assemble documents in real time
Unless you are a direct descendant of Mark Twain, the simple fact is that documents tell a better story than you. Documents can add the right context to your words and facilitate believability and keep you out of the ”he said/she said” morass. Print out and keep e-mail chains. Retain draft documents, memos and notes from meetings. Consider keeping a contemporaneous work journal.
You should also consider keeping these documents in a place so that if you are ever terminated and escorted from your office (this does happen), you still have possession of these documents. Just be sure that you do not violate corporate confidentiality provisions.
Use care when reporting fraud through internal corporate channels
“Why didn’t you say something to HR or your boss?” Expect that question to come up from some of your peers. Quite frankly it is a fair question to ask. If your employer has a meaningful corporate whistleblower policy that offers true protection to you, reporting what you know through this internal whistleblower channel may be your best option.
Is the corporate whistleblower program disclosed in an employee manual? Does your company aggressively communicate details of the program to all employees? Can you point to past examples of the program working successfully? Those are just a few of the things to take heed of when considering reporting fraud internally.
If you shoot, shoot to kill
This statement is true in whistleblower law, employment law and deer hunting. Do not be a water cooler complainer. Do not use any information you have in an attempt to leverage something from your direct boss. If you have facts of corporate misconduct, and you decide to report your facts and concerns, do so objectively and completely.
Do not try to hide the involvement of someone you like. Do not try to lay the blame on someone you dislike. Report the facts.