Coronavirus Whistleblower FAQ

Published on June 05, 2020

Q: Which whistleblower laws apply to employees reporting health and safety violations or frauds related to coronavirus spending?

A: The applicable law depends on the type of violation being reported.

For whistleblowers reporting health and safety violations, there are significant gaps in protections. No federal law covers all public health whistleblowers. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) provides some coverage to workers reporting on health and safety concerns. That said, OSHA whistleblower protections do not go far enough to adequately protect whistleblowers.

Protections also vary depending on the type of employee. For federal employees, the Whistleblower Protection offers whistleblower protections. State and local government employees may rely on freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment as well as coverage under state laws and specific state laws for healthcare workers, which may vary from state to state.

For whistleblowers reporting frauds related to coronavirus spending, there is a large framework of U.S. laws that address many potential violations and frauds arising from the coronavirus crisis. For example, the federal False Claims Act and state False Claims Acts allows whistleblowers to report fraud in government programs or contracts, such as fraud in coronavirus financial assistance programs.

Q: How can whistleblowers use the False Claims Act to combat coronavirus-related fraud?

A: All federal funding is subject to the highly successful and expansive False Claims Act. Any fraud related to the recent influx of trillions in economic aid allocated to combat the coronavirus crisis falls under jurisdiction of the False Claims Act. Any knowledgeable submission of false claims to the government by an individual or organization violates the False Claims Act – even if it occurs outside of the U.S.. Through the False Claims Act’s qui tam provision, any individual or non-governmental organization can file a lawsuit, in U.S. District Courts, on behalf of the U.S. government.

Under the qui tam provision, whistleblowers making confidential disclosures can be rewarded if the fraud exposed results in a financial loss to the federal government. It is important to note that whistleblower are not required to be U.S. citizens. If successful, whistleblowers will be awarded a mandatory award between 15% to 30% of the collected proceeds in the case. This act also includes strong anti-retaliation provisions. and allows for whistleblowers to qualify for monetary rewards.

Q: What are the eligibility requirements for receiving federal funding under the current bailout programs?

A: Trillions of dollars in government spending have been authorized to combat coronavirus, which programs administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, and others.

Learn about the specific requirements for companies to qualify for various funding sources here.

Q: What are some types of actionable fraud in coronavirus spending?

A: Making false claims about the quality of goods, the cost of services, the adherence to certain laws, contract terms, or regulations are all examples of potential violations of the False Claims Act. Potential violations of the False Claims Act that whistleblowers should report may include:

• Price gouging of personal protective equipment;

• Billing for unnecessary health services to Medicare or Medicaid;

• Sale of defective products to the government;

• Overbilling for products sold to the government;

• Improper use of physical or chemical restraints, including withholding of pain medication

• Substandard hygiene, nutrition, or infection controls in a health center; or

• Failure to provide adequate staff for residents.

Q: Are there any laws for whistleblowers reporting securities fraud or insider trading related to coronavirus?

A: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulates securities fraud and insider trading. In order to combat coronavirus-related fraud, the SEC issued a statement that it will be investigating and prosecuting securities fraud related to the impact of the coronavirus crisis on market integrity. Additionally, the SEC issued an alert to warn about coronavirus-related investment scams giving examples of such scams and frauds like “pump-and-dump” schemes.

The (SEC) whistleblower program offers anonymity protections as well as reward provisions for whistleblowers bringing forward evidence of securities fraud.

Similarly, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) provides an avenue to file anonymous whistleblower claims regarding commodities fraud and potentially receive a reward for successful enforcement actions.

Q: Are there any protections for federal employees blowing the whistle?

A: Yes, all federal employees have an assortment of laws that may protect them from blowing the whistle, apart from Public Health Service (PHS) employees. These laws include the Whistleblower Protection Act, Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, and the Inspector General Act. However, federal employee whistleblower protection laws fall far behind the whistleblower and anti-retaliation protections afforded to those working in private industry, publicly traded companies, and even local and state governments.

Q: Are there any protections for PHS employees blowing the whistle?

A: Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHS) employees are covered by whistleblower regulations from a whistleblower law that applies to the military. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General’s Office issued guidance and explanation regarding these protections.

PHS employees can make disclosures to some official offices or individuals including: • A member of Congress;

• An Inspector General

• A member of a DoD audit, inspection, investigation, or law enforcement organization;

• Any person or organization in the chain of command; or

• Any other person or organization designated pursuant to regulations or other established administrative procedures for such communications.

However, the whistleblower protections and reporting avenues for PHS employees fall short of the protections afforded to other federal employees, state and local government employees, and corporate employees.

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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