Judith Moldover, Senior Staff Attorney of the Lawyer’s Alliance of New York, stated, “[R]etaliation is human nature.” Moldover made the statement in 2008 to a group of human resources professionals at a conference sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management. As one who spent most of her career defending employers, Moldover warned the HR crowd that retaliation claims would increase because there is an almost “irresistible urge to strike back” against employees who complain about problems or who file lawsuits against their employers. Perhaps because retaliation is so ingrained, employees who speak out against fraud, waste, or wrongdoing should expect their bosses to retaliate against them. The only thing employees can do is smarten up. Figure out if you are a likely target of retaliation as early as you can. Assess whether you have a viable whistleblower claim. And, think twice about making any further reports to your boss.
If you believe your boss is genuinely trying to improve the workplace and wants your input, make good faith reports of problems, at least once or twice. Some employers will do the right thing, and some will even be grateful. Many will not. As Moldover points out, no one likes to hear about problems, and most employers would rather hear that their departments or companies are running well than hear a report of non-compliance or a misuse of company funds. Sometimes a whistleblower can assess the workplace environment and get clues about how a particular supervisor will react to reports of fraud, waste, or abuse.
Suppose you make a report. Does your boss correct the wrongdoer, or give him more support? Does your boss try to blame the problem on you? Does your boss try to diminish your value to the company somehow? Does your boss suddenly give greater weight to petty workplace problems of yours when those were previously tolerated? Does your boss suddenly give you demeaning work assignments? Does your boss allow others to be rude to you? Are your resources taken away, while wrongdoers get more resources? Does your access to the boss decrease? Does the wrongdoer get more access? Is the wrongdoer emboldened somehow? Does your boss suddenly chastise you in ways that never happened before? Are you passed over when it comes time to hand out plum assignments? Signs of retaliation can be subtle or obvious, but when whistleblowers look back, they often realize that they had observed specific small behaviors that indicated they would be punished for their efforts to address fraud. If your boss shows signs of retaliation against you, even in small ways, step back, and assess the situation.
Unfortunately, most whistleblowers are people of high integrity and perhaps undue optimism. They see little, subtle signs of retaliation like those described above, but they don’t want to be involved in covering up fraud, or they just can’t bring themselves to gloss over a co-worker’s misconduct. Sometimes, they just have too much faith that their companies will appreciate their efforts. By the time the hapless whistleblower contacts an attorney, it’s too late. The well meaning, smart, trustworthy supporter of the company has experienced high level retaliation – attacks on reputation, bad performance appraisals, demotion, and perhaps, loss of job. Despite well publicized reporting protections, retaliation can take many forms and even in serious, obvious cases, it takes a long time to be made whole when an employer retaliates against you. Think twice before making that report to a boss who doesn’t want to hear it.
Of course, many employees don’t have much choice about whether or not to report fraud, waste, and abuse. Compliance officers, auditors, attorneys – these and many other occupations require one to take action of some sort when encountering fraud. All employees can and should take steps to protect themselves when reporting misconduct and illegal behavior. In cases where government money is involved, even indirectly, the whistleblower should get legal advice early. A workplace insider who reports government fraud can be an important asset to government prosecutors in a False Claims action, for example. A terminated employee is often less valuable.
Knowledgeable qui tam counsel help you assess whether you have a viable whistleblower claim and what steps you can take to protect yourself in the process of addressing government fraud. If you know of government fraud in your workplace, and you suspect even a hint of possible retaliation, call Stengle Law today for a free consultation today.