An employee is often placed in a challenging position when he or she discovers that the company he or she works for is engaging in illegal activity. Indeed, the employee may feel torn between company loyalty and the need to protect the public at large by reporting the employer's misconduct.
Adding to this unenviable predicament is the fact that an employee may also fear retaliation for blowing the whistle on his or her employer. Fortunately, however, many federal laws, including the False Claims Act, protect Texas employees from retaliation when they report company misconduct to the authorities - meaning they do not have to be afraid of losing their jobs for simply doing the right thing.
Options under the False Claims Act
As its name implies, the federal False Claims Act (FCA) protects employees, including those in Texas, when they report their employers for filing false claims for money in an effort to defraud the federal government, such as fraudulent healthcare billing. Indeed, the FCA expressly provides legal resource when employees are retaliated against for such whistle blowing.
However, in order to support a claim for retaliation under the FCA's whistleblower statute, an employee must be able to prove the following factors in Texas:
- The employee engaged in an activity protected by the FCA
- The employer knew that the employee had engaged in such protected activity
- The employer discriminated or retaliated against the employee because he or she engaged in the protected activity
In addition, an FCA retaliation claim must be brought within three years of the actual retaliation, after which time, the claim may be barred.
Interestingly, under the FCA, an employee who reports the fraudulent actions of his or her employer may also be able to bring a qui tam action, which, essentially means the employee is bringing an FCA suit in an effort to collect damages on behalf of the federal government. In order to encourage the reporting of fraudulent activity through qui tam claims, the FCA states that an employee may even be entitled to a portion of any award of settlement ultimately obtained against the fraudulent employer.
For instance, if the federal government elects to intervene in an FCA qui tam action, the employee that originally brought the claim will typically be entitled to 15 to 25 percent of any award obtained by the government. Alternatively, if the federal government does not intervene and the employee decides to continue with the action, he or she will be entitled to 25 to 30 percent of any recovery ultimately achieved - an amount that can be quite substantial depending upon the circumstances.
Seek legal guidance
It is important to mention that the FCA is not the only law that protects employees when they report their employers' illegal activity. If fact, there are many such laws, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which safeguards employees who report securities or regulatory violations to the SEC. However, just because these laws exist does not mean employers will not attempt to punish employees who report illegal behavior.
Accordingly, if you have been retaliated against by your employer for reporting illegal conduct, or wish to file a qui tam action, you need to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A skilled attorney can review your situation and help explain your rights and options.