Post Content

Legal Insider: What is a Whistleblower?

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

We thought that an article on whistleblowing would be timely given the recent news involving the whistleblower complaint involving Ukraine. A whistleblower is simply an individual who learns of illegal or unethical activity (or waste, fraud and abuse) and reports it.

Most whistleblowers do not end up famous, but they often play a critical role in holding employers and the government accountable for engaging in illegal activities. Too often illegal activities are ignored by an employee for fear of retaliation. Some employees, however, take a stand at great risk to themselves. As a result, many whistleblower laws have developed over the years to protect these individuals.

Whistleblower Laws in the United States and Virginia

The United States has had whistleblower laws in effect since 1863 during the time of President Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to encourage individuals to report rampant fraud against the federal government in response to purchases during the Civil War. As a result, the False Claims Act (FCA) became law and encouraged private citizens to bring lawsuits against individuals and companies who were defrauding the government.

As an incentive, the whistleblower could receive a percentage of whatever the government recovered from the disclosure. The FCA is still in effect today, though numerous other federal and state laws cover different types of whistleblowers.

In 1989, the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) was enacted to protect federal employees who disclosed illegal actions by the federal government and waste, fraud and abuse. The WPA sought to protect federal employee whistleblowers who suffered retaliation for reporting these illegal activities. There are numerous other whistleblower laws at the federal and state levels that protect individuals who disclose different types of illegal activities, such as the Clean Air Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

These are just some of the existing whistleblower laws that can protect individuals that make disclosures. Additionally, many states allow employees, either by statute or common law, the ability to challenge retaliation related to whistleblowing activities.

In Virginia, because the state has not yet enacted general state whistleblower protections for employees, the courts have allowed employees to bring whistleblower claims through common law. These are known as Bowman claims, after the case of Bowman v. State Bank of Keysville, 331 S.E.2d 797 (Va. 1985).

General Test to Qualify for Whistleblower Protection

The importance of being a whistleblower is that certain protections can then come into play after the disclosures are made. Generally, once a disclosure is made, an employer finds out who disclosed the illegal activity and are very unhappy with the employee. This often causes employer retaliation against the whistleblower.

Whistleblower protection laws usually follow the same 3-part test to determine if an employee can prevail on a retaliation claim. In general, this requires:

  1. That the individual had a good faith belief that their employer was engaging in illegal activities or waste, fraud and abuse and they reported it
  2. That the individual’s employer knew that the individual made such disclosures
  3. That the whistleblower suffered retaliation due to the disclosures

Depending on the statute involved, a whistleblower can receive legal protection from retaliation (the most common retaliatory action involves termination from employment), damages, back pay and attorney fees. Each statute is different so individuals should consult with an attorney if they believe that they may need whistleblower protection.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with whistleblower representation or other employment issues, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

Recent Stories

Schedule a walk-through of the luxury townhome community at Darden Towns in the heart of Del Ray.

With the City of Alexandria returning to regulating on-street retail and restaurant uses, including adding a price tag for the benefit, the City Council is also scheduled to review a…

It’s been a rough week for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and to top things off: someone hit a Metro work vehicle in the Braddock neighborhood this afternoon. The…

The City of Alexandria said a survey collecting feedback on the new expanded King Street pedestrian zone showed overwhelmingly positive. After the 100 block of King Street was permanently converted…

Looking for a more convenient way to work out?

On the Go Fitness Pro offers in home personal training. We bring the gym to you, so you can save time and skip the hassle of going to the gym. Plus, our trainers are certified and experienced, so you can be sure you’re getting the best possible workout.

We provide all the equipment needed for a great workout or we can use the equipment that you have.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Are you tired of going to the gym? It might be the crowds, the locker room, waiting on equipment or the time it takes to commute to the gym.

Having a personal trainer come to your home will keep you accountable, save you time and allow you to workout in the comfort of your own home.

Skip the hassle of the gym and try our in-home personal training service.

Our services are reasonably priced, convenient, effective and are risk free.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Think BIG! About the Future of Movement

Join the City of Alexandria and Arlington County’s Initiative to Rethink Energy at our first ever electric vehicle (EV) and sustainable technologies showcase! Get inspired by seeing a variety of electric cars, scooters, bikes, motorcycles, police cars, buses, trucks and

Between Home and the Front: Book Talk and Signing

Join the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum on Zoom or in person at the museum for a special book talk with the curators behind Between Home and the Front: Civil War Letters of the Walters Family. A book signing will be

×

Subscribe to our mailing list