Whistleblowers perform a critical service for the public and applicable authorities when they report evidence of wrongdoing. However, confidentiality for whistleblowers is a common concern and prevents some workers from taking action for fear of retaliation.
In Arizona, all citizens are protected by federal and state whistleblower laws. This means that a whistleblower can remain anonymous in cases filed under the Dodd-Frank Act which entitles whistleblowers to anonymity.
Unfortunately, some cases may require the whistleblower’s information to be disclosed to interested parties. The name and testimony of the whistleblower will typically become public knowledge in public court cases.
Whistleblower Programs in Arizona
The U.S. offers legal protection to whistleblowers who wish to remain anonymous and act as confidential informants. Filing a whistleblower claim under a law that provides whistleblowers with confidentiality is the best way to shield yourself from the potential ramifications of whistleblowing.
Whether a whistleblower can remain anonymous will partly depend on the type of allegation that they wish to report. Some laws that provide protection to whistleblowers in Arizona include the following:
1. SEC Whistleblower Program
Information from a whistleblower with knowledge of securities law violations can be invaluable for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since its inception in 2011, the SEC whistleblower program has awarded over $1.3 billion to more than 300 individuals.
In Arizona, whistleblowers who submit tips under the Dodd-Frank Act and participate in an SEC case may remain anonymous but only if the complaint and all other information are given through an attorney. While the SEC will attempt to keep the identity of a whistleblower without an attorney confidential, the agency may choose to disclose his or her identity if deemed necessary.
2. CFTC Whistleblower Program
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) whistleblower program provides whistleblowers with monetary incentives when they report potential violations of the Commodity Exchange Act that result in successful enforcement action. The CFTC also provides whistleblowers with confidentiality, privacy, and anti-retaliation protections.
To remain anonymous in a case that is subject to the Dodd-Frank Act, the whistleblower is required to file an initial complaint through an attorney. All subsequent communications regarding the case should also be through an attorney and the CFTC.
3. IRS Whistleblower Program
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) pays eligible individuals monetary awards if their information is used by the IRS. Pay can range from 15 to 30 percent of any proceeds collected and attributable to the whistleblower’s information.
Similar to the SEC and CFTC whistleblower programs, whistleblowers who file tips under the IRS whistleblower program are entitled to complete anonymity if the initial tip is filed through an attorney. Whistleblowers who do not use attorneys may still receive confidentiality, but the IRS is not under legal obligation to maintain the whistleblower’s anonymity.
4. EEOC Whistleblower Program
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits employment discrimination based on protected classes such as color, race, sex, national origin, religion, age, pregnancy, genetic information, or disability. Most employees, job applicants, and former employees in both the private and public sectors are protected by EEO laws.
Employees or job applicants who have been discriminated against have the right to file a complaint with the EEOC and a civil lawsuit in federal court. Unfortunately, a whistleblower cannot remain anonymous in an EEOC case, and the employer will learn the whistleblower’s identity.
5. OSHA Whistleblower Program
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administers over twenty whistleblower protection laws that protect employees from retaliation for raising or reporting concerns about violations or hazards of various workplace health and safety laws.
Whistleblower complaints filed with the OSHA cannot be filed anonymously. When the OSHA begins an investigation following a complaint, the employer is notified and provided with an opportunity to respond. Once the case is closed, it is possible that the case file or complaint may be released to the public.
6. False Claims Act Whistleblower Program
The False Claims Act is a federal law established by the U.S. government as a way to combat fraud. It enables whistleblowers to sue individuals or entities that defraud the government and provides whistleblowers with financial rewards and job protection.
Qui tam lawsuits are filed in federal court “under seal,” meaning the defendant will not receive a notice of complaint against them, and only the parties privy to the case are
aware of the whistleblower’s identity, which is usually limited to the whistleblower’s attorney.
Internal Whistleblower Complaints
Whistleblowers have the choice of submitting an internal complaint within the company. While internal whistleblowers are not entitled to a monetary reward, they are protected against employer retaliation. Most businesses have HR programs in place for reporting internal complaints. In these cases, employers have an ethical duty to keep the identity of the whistleblower protected but are not under a legal obligation to maintain the worker’s anonymity.
Retaliation Against Whistleblowers
With the exception of complaints filed with the SEC, CFTC, and IRS through an attorney, the identity of a whistleblower may be disclosed to an employer. If this occurs, an employer may retaliate against the employee. Adverse actions could include:
- Pay cuts
- Reducing hours
- Revoking benefits
If a whistleblower is retaliated against by their employer, the agency handling the claim has the authority to seek compensatory and punitive damages. Whistleblowers who face retaliation are also eligible to file a civil lawsuit against the employer for additional damages.
Discuss Your Case with JacksonWhite
If you have been victimized for blowing the whistle on your employer or fear retaliation if anonymity isn’t granted, it’s important to speak with an experienced Arizona employment attorney about your case.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.