The federal government has a long history of protecting whistleblowers and encouraging them to come forward. The False Claims Act dates back to the Civil War and was intended to punish war profiteers. The False Claims Act encourages people to report when fraud is occurring by rewarding whistleblowers with a portion of money recovered. In 2012, one American banker who reported that U.S. citizens were making secret deposits in a Swiss bank collected a reward of $104 million.
Even as the government works to try to encourage whistleblowing, the Washington Post indicates that "Corporate America is becoming far more sophisticated and aggressive in its efforts to discourage people from coming forward and reporting externally." One way that corporations are trying to silence whistleblowers is with non-disclosure agreements.
Those who know about wrongdoing have legal rights and should be protected from retaliation. If you are concerned about whether you can come forward, contact a whistleblower attorney in Texas for help.
Workplace Secrecy Agreements Discourage Whistleblowing
Nondisclosure agreements are common in business to protect trade secrets and customer contact lists, but there has reportedly been a rise in "overly restrictive" agreements. Some of the contracts that workers are being asked to sign are described as being so broad that the contracts aim to stop employees from reporting fraud even to investigators from the government.
The agreements "incorporate language that goes beyond those that had traditionally protected proprietary information." In some cases, they have included clauses barring employees from reporting wrongdoing without first getting approval from a supervisor. Agreements have also contained clauses precluding employees from using information for financial gain. This undermines the federal laws that let whistleblowers obtain financial compensation for reporting wrongdoing.
These expansive nondisclosure agreements have surfaced at one of the largest defense contractors within the country as well as at a nonprofit organization that has collected in excess of a billion dollars in tax-payer funding.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently investigating several of these agreements that workers have been asked to sign. While spokespeople for the companies have said that they encourage employees to report fraud and that they are doing nothing wrong, the agreements do raise serious concerns. In fact, one former employee described an agreement that she reluctantly signed as a gag-order and claimed she was fired for raising safety issues.
Companies cannot and should not ask workers to sign oaths promising not to report wrongdoing or fraud. Companies should also not try to retaliate against those who come forward; although surveys of workers on Wall Street and for the federal government have responded to recent surveys indicating they fear retribution for speaking out.
The rise of these nondisclosure agreements may be in response to the Dodd-Frank law, which created strict rigid internal reporting rules. Regardless of the reason, it is clear that the agreements are making people think twice about coming forward and reporting problems.
Rather than be afraid to blow the whistle on fraud or criminal acts, you should talk to a lawyer who can help you to protect your rights.
Contact a whistleblower attorney in Texas if you believe you have evidence of fraud. Call Brewer & Prichard P.C. today at 800-445-8710 or visit https://www.bplaw.com to schedule a consultation.