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Your rights when blowing the whistle: A guide for SEC, CFTC, and IRS whistleblowers

On Behalf of | Jul 9, 2024 | Firm News |

Have you ever come across something wrong happening at your workplace? Maybe you have noticed irregularities that could mean fraud or misconduct. If you are in a position where you could report these actions, you might be a potential whistleblower.

Reporting wrongdoing can help stop fraud and corruption. However, it is essential to understand your rights and the protections available to you.

Could you be a whistleblower?

“Whistleblowing” is a popular term that is often used loosely to cover just about any complaint. However, a narrower definition of “whistleblowing” means reporting activities that are illegal or against the rules set by government agencies relevant to a Whistleblower Reward Program pursuant to federal statutes. In the financial and tax sectors, these activities can involve big sums of money and significant violations of public trust. Whistleblowers play a crucial role in exposing and stopping this wrongdoing.

What kinds of issues could you report?

Agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rely on tips from insiders to enforce the law effectively. Each of these organizations does work related to financial dealings or tax matters. However, this work is slightly different between agencies, and the misconduct you report to each varies according to those differences:

  • For the SEC – Insider trading, accounting fraud, investment fraud and other violations of securities laws
  • For the CFTC – Trading violations, market manipulation and other breaches related to commodities, futures and derivatives
  • For the IRS – Tax fraud and significant underpayment of taxes

You might think that you need to be a high-ranking official or have a specific title to be a whistleblower, but that is not true. You could be an accountant, an executive or even a part-time employee who comes across crucial information. Anyone who has firsthand knowledge or evidence of misconduct can take on this role, and any of these employees can protect their rights while blowing the whistle.

Can you remain anonymous when reporting these issues?

Many people have concerns about connecting their name to a whistleblower report. Because each agency has its own process for reporting, whether you can remain anonymous depends on the agency involved:

  • SEC – You can file a report online through the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower. You can choose to remain anonymous, but you will need an attorney to represent you if you do.
  • CFTC – Similar to the SEC, you can report violations through their Whistleblower Office. Anonymity is also an option here with legal representation.
  • IRS – Reporting to the IRS is a bit different. You must identify yourself when you file a report, but the law protects your identity.

Knowing whether you can report anonymously or protect your identity can help you take steps to reduce the risk of retaliation.

What other protections are available?

When you decide to blow the whistle, it is natural to worry about potential backlash from your employer. Fortunately, U.S. federal law offers strong protections for whistleblowers to encourage them to come forward without fear that doing the right thing will harm their life and career.

Laws are in place to protect whistleblowers from being fired, demoted, harassed or discriminated against for reporting misconduct. If any such retaliation occurs, whistleblowers have the right to file a complaint with the appropriate agency, and there can be legal consequences for employers who violate these protections.

To further incentivize whistleblowers, the IRS,  SEC, and CFTC whistleblower programs offer financial rewards. These rewards can be substantial, amounting to between 10% and 30% of the money recovered by the government because of the information provided, provided the recovered sum meets certain criteria. This reward can add up to millions of dollars in some cases.

What should you do if you have misconduct to report?

Before you make a report, consider the following steps to protect yourself and strengthen your position:

  • Document everything – Keep detailed records of all incidents, including dates, times, involved parties and a description of the wrongdoing. Documentation can provide substantial support for your claims.
  • Seek legal adviceContacting an attorney with experience in whistleblower cases can provide you with crucial guidance and protection. They can help you understand the complexities of whistleblower laws and ensure that you take steps to protect your rights.
  • Evaluate the risks and rewards – Understand the potential impacts on your career and personal life. While legal protections are in place, whistleblowing can be a challenging process. Make sure you are prepared for the possible outcomes.

Deciding to become a whistleblower is not easy. It requires courage and a desire to seek justice. However, knowing that there are laws to protect you and potentially reward you can make this decision easier in conjunction with legal counsel experienced in representing whistleblowers.