Coal Whistleblower FAQ

Whistleblower laws can protect and reward whistleblowers with knowledge of fraud in the coal industry.

Published on May 31, 2020

Q: Which whistleblower laws apply to whistleblowers in the coal mining and utilities industries?

A: There is a large framework of U.S. laws that address many of the likely frauds in the coal industry.

The federal False Claims Act and state False Claims Acts allows whistleblowers to report fraud in government programs or contracts or fraud that prevents the government from collecting what it is owed, such as royalty payments. The Dodd-Frank Act allows whistleblowers to report securities and commodities fraud, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act allows whistleblowers to report bribery or corruption, and the IRS Whistleblower Law allows whistleblowers to report tax fraud.

The U.S. Federal Mine Safety and Health Act also contains one of the first federal whistleblower protection provisions, and many environmental laws also have special provisions related to corporate whistleblowers. These include the Endangered Species, Clean Air, Toxic Substances, Clean Water, Atomic Energy, Solid Waste, Safe Drinking Water, and Superfund Acts.

Q: Who can qualify as a whistleblower?

A: Whistleblowers do not necessarily need to be employed at the company they are filing a complaint about. Many whistleblower laws only require that an individual or entity have original information about fraud. This can include both insider (nonpublic) information and original analysis of public information. Under some whistleblower laws, including the False Claims Act, non-governmental organizations can also qualify whistleblowers.

Q: Can non-U.S. citizens qualify as whistleblowers?

A: Yes. Under multiple whistleblower laws, such as the Dodd-Frank Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, eligibility and rewards do not depend on U.S. citizenship.

Q: Can U.S. whistleblower laws apply to non-U.S. companies?

A: Yes. Many U.S. whistleblower laws have global reach. For example, the Dodd-Frank Act applies to all publicly-traded companies, regardless of their country of incorporation or operation and includes that company’s subsidiaries. The scope of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act also includes foreign public companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States or companies that are required to file periodic reports with the SEC and their subsidiaries and personnel, as well as foreign entities and agents.

Q: Can coal employees use whistleblower laws to report safety and health issues?

A: Yes. For employees at U.S. companies, the employee-protection provision of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act protects miners, their representatives, and applicants for employment from retaliation for engaging in safety and/or health-related activities or refusing to engage in unsafe acts.

Through the False Claims Act, whistleblowers can also report companies who mislead the government about their emergency preparedness. The Dodd-Frank Act allows whistleblowers to report publicly-listed companies who mislead investors about health and safety practices, policies, and results or to report companies who mislead investors about risks that could affect share value, such as the risk of dam failure or the extent of resulting environmental liabilities.

Q: How can coal whistleblowers protect themselves from employer retaliation?

A: Virtually all whistleblower laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for reporting in good faith to an appropriate government agency. Whistleblowers can also protect themselves from retaliation by reporting confidentially or anonymously. Under the Dodd-Frank Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, whistleblowers can request that their identity be kept confidential or file their complaint anonymously. The IRS is also required to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers to the fullest extent permitted under law. Whistleblowers should consult with an attorney about how to secure protections against retaliation.

Q: Can coal whistleblowers earn rewards under whistleblower laws?

A: Yes. Several major laws provide awards for whistleblowers whose original information or analysis leads to a successful prosecution. Both the False Claims Act and IRS whistleblower law require payment to whistleblowers of between 15 and 30 percent of the government’s monetary sanctions collected over $1 million if they assist with prosecution of fraud. The Dodd-Frank Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act require payment to whistleblowers of between 10 percent and 30 percent of monetary sanctions. Whistleblowers should consult with an attorney about how to obtain an award.

Q: Can coal whistleblowers report fraud by calling a company hotline?

A: In many cases, employees are only protected from retaliation if they report to the government first, and companies have successfully argued that they can fire at-will employees for reporting to a company hotline. You should not make any disclosures to your company’s hotline or company compliance office until after you consult a whistleblower attorney.

Q: Can non-disclosure agreements or non-disparagement agreements prohibit individuals from reporting fraud to the government?

A: Non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements cannot lawfully prohibit individuals, including employees or former employees, from reporting unlawful conduct to law enforcement. For more information, please visit our non-disclosure agreements and whistleblowers page.

Q: How can I get help?

If you need help finding an attorney, visit Resources for Locating an Attorney.
The New Whistleblower's Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself (Lyons Press, 2017) is the first-ever consumer's guide to whistleblowing. It contains clear and comprehensive rules that fully explain the how to effectively blow the whistle. It is very important that you review this resource in order to determine what laws may protect you and whether you need to take immediate action to protect your rights.

Please read the FAQ disclaimer.

The material in this FAQ may not reflect the most current legal developments. The content and interpretation of the law addressed herein is subject to revision. We disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this website or in this FAQ. Before acting on any information or material in this web site, we strongly recommend you review these resources.

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