One of the most common questions that we’re asked is: “what is a whistleblower?”
On the simplest level, a whistleblower is someone who reports waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, or dangers to public health and safety to someone who is in the position to rectify the wrongdoing. A whistleblower typically works inside of the organization where the wrongdoing is taking place; however, being an agency or company “insider” is not essential to serving as a whistleblower. What matters is that the individual discloses information about wrongdoing that otherwise would not be known.
Individuals who want to enjoy the protections and rewards of whistleblower law cannot rely on this simplified definition. Instead, they must adhere to the definitions and procedures in the laws under which they are seeking formal whistleblower status.
In the U.S., dozens of whistleblower laws are now in place at the federal, state and local levels, ranging from the False Claims Act to the Clean Air Act to the Antarctic Conservation Act, and each has unique definitions and procedures. There are also a growing number of whistleblower laws in countries outside the U.S., each with their own rules and regulations. The National Whistleblower Center advocates for whistleblower laws around the world that provide strong protections and financial rewards. To support this mission, you can join NWC’s Action Alert Network.
Following whistleblower rules and procedures is important. Although serving as a whistleblower outside these channels may be noble, those who operate within them can secure important protections against retaliation and, in some cases, financial rewards for assisting in the prosecution of the wrongdoer. That’s why the National Whistleblower Center recommends that would-be whistleblowers find an attorney before attempting to blow the whistle. One way to do this is through a secure intake form operated by the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can learn more about that process here.
For additional information on whistleblower rights, read The New Whistleblower’s Handbook, the first-ever guide to whistleblowing, by the nation’s leading whistleblower attorney. The Handbook is a step-by-step guide to the essential tools for successfully blowing the whistle, qualifying for financial rewards, and protecting yourself.
While the tangle of laws regarding whistleblower rights and protections can be confusing, the four-plus decades of success in getting these laws enacted in the U.S. and around the world speaks to an important truth: there is a widespread bipartisan consensus that whistleblowers are a critical tool in combatting fraud and other wrongdoing.
Thousands of people blow the whistle around the world each year on everything from bad accounting to tax fraud to pollution to illegal wildlife trade. These crimes can have a significant financial impact on the government, company shareholders, and taxpayers, and many would be extremely difficult for law enforcement to discover on their own. Without whistleblowers, they would go undetected.
It was whistleblowers who exposed Watergate and the failures of the Vietnam War; who exposed the massive accounting fraud that brought down Enron and WorldCom in the early 2000s; who exposed secret Swiss bank accounts; and who exposed the health dangers of nicotine in tobacco products.
Those are just a few key examples of the magnitude of change that whistleblowers can make. They are integral to the health of the government, the economy, and the public. That is why the National Whistleblower Center is working every day to support whistleblowers by assisting them in finding legal aid, advocating for policy protections, and celebrating their achievements.