The U.S. has had laws to protect whistleblowers since 1777. Today we look at a few cases in the government and private sector.
The term “whistleblowing” was not popular until the 1970s, but seven months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress passed the first whistleblower protection law.
The first to seek protection were 10 American sailors and Marines who had reported improper behavior by the Continental Navy Commodore Esek Hopkins. Hopkins’ brother was the governor of Rhode Island, who lobbied for his appointment to the position.
Hopkins‘ men sought protection for speaking out against their commander’s treatment of British prisoners, quick temper, misconduct and poor character. The group feared being branded as traitors by their commander and sought protection from Congress.
Hopkins was suspended and relieved of his command in 1778. He lashed out by filing a criminal libel suit in Rhode Island against the 10 petitioners, and two whistleblowers who lived in Rhode Island were arrested and jailed.
The two appealed to the Continental Congress, which responded by passing a law to protect the men — and future whistleblowers.
False Claims Act
During the Civil War, many unscrupulous contractors had defrauded the Union Army by selling it low-quality products such as uniforms that disintegrated in the rain. The government was short of inspectors, so it authorized the public to be whistleblowers.
After passage of the act in 1863, a whistleblower was entitled to half of the damages won by the government.
Parts of the False Claims Act are still in use, and in 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice obtained nearly $3 billion in settlements and judgments in cases involving fraud.
More recent measures
Two of the most recent federal laws established to protect those who call out perceived corruption are:Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. Enacted to protect federal employees from retaliation who disclose government waste, fraud or abuse of power.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. It extended protection to federal employees in the intelligence community and others with security clearance.
According to the law firm Hagen Berman, which handles whistleblower cases, the most common types are:
- Health care fraud
- Defense contractor fraud
- Tax fraud
- Securities fraud
- Procurement fraud
The Aug. 12 anonymous whistleblower complaint regarding a telephone call with President Donald Trump and a foreign official was filed with the inspector general of the intelligence community, who found a “credible concern” with the complaint.
Regardless of the politics involved, whistleblower claims in the private sector and the government appear to be on the rise.
Whistleblower complaints handled by the U.S. Department of Labor from 2012-2018 increased 74%.
Big awards for whistleblowers
In the private sector, many whistleblowers have received awards for helping the Securities and Exchange Commission with cases of fraud. The SEC has ordered wrongdoers in enforcement matters involving whistleblower information to pay more than $975 million in sanctions from 2000-2017. These are the biggest awards from 2000-2017, in millions.
In 2017, California, New York, Texas, Florida and New Jersey yielded the highest number of whistleblower tips.
- California, 500
- New York, 438
- Texas, 250
- Florida, 229
- New Jersey, 175
Most common whistleblower tips to the SEC
Since August 2011, the SEC has received more than 22,000 whistleblower tips including 4,400 in 2017.
Whistleblower award recipients
A 2015 study titled “Whistleblower Protection Laws in G20 Countries” examined protections in the public and private sector. The U.S. had the best score.
The chart shows select countries’ scoring. The best score is 28 and the worst is 84.
The study rated countries in 14 categories that included oversight, confidentiality and remedies.
Ag-gag laws are anti-whistleblower laws that apply within the agriculture industry. Ag-gag laws currently exist in seven states, penalizing whistleblowers who investigate the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video and/or audio at a farm. In 2013, the California legislature voted against an Ag-gag bill sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association.
These are different whistleblowers than those that call out fraud, as some seek employment from agricultural businesses in order to spy for animal rights groups.
The origin of the whistle
Nobody knows how long the whistle has been around, but the first pea whistles used by police were in London.
In 1883, Joseph Hudson created the first London police whistle to replace the hand rattle. Whistles were mostly thought of as toys until enclosing a pellet inside the policeman’s whistle created the unique warbling sound. The police whistle could be heard over a mile away and was adopted as the official whistle of the London bobby.
Source: Orange County Register