It takes a lot of courage to report illegal or fraudulent misconduct by one’s own employer. This is because being a whistleblower carries significant risks. Whistleblowers not only risk their current employment, but possible ongoing retaliation that can harm their industry reputation and ability to find work with employers in the future. Reporting wrongdoing can also invite significant emotional hardship and threats to one’s personal safety. So why would anybody want to be a whistleblower?
For most with a moral compass, often doing the right thing is reward enough. But there are an increasing number of laws, which now provide additional incentives – both in terms of anonymity and financial remuneration. Depending on where one lives in the United States, there are various state whistleblower laws that could apply. Federal laws tend to provide the most financial incentive, and in particular, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), which was signed into law in 2010, as a measure to address the 2008 collapse of the financial services market.
Dodd-Frank was a notable expansion on pre-existing federal whistleblower laws for several reasons. The earlier Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), which was a measure in its own right to address the failings that led to the 2001 financial crisis, provides civil protections to employees (including officers or subcontractors) of a publicly traded company against any kind of retaliation by the employer. While SOX has led to multi-million-dollar financial verdicts for the whistleblower, Dodd-Frank expanded eligibility of who could become a whistleblower, from employees under SOX, to anybody. Section 78u-6(a)(6) of Dodd-Frank defines a whistleblower as follows: