San Francisco, CA 3/30/2015 / Submit Press Release123 / While whistleblowers may receive monetary awards for identifying fraud, their motivations are more often linked to integrity, public safety, and justice
Whistleblowers come from many different backgrounds but they all share one important trait: They’ve taken the big, often bold step to expose fraud. Indeed, these ‘insiders’ who know of, or have reason to suspect, improper activity have proven remarkably effective in rooting out bad behavior, much of which would otherwise go undetected. But what, exactly, motivates the whistleblower to act while others who are also aware of the misconduct remain silent?
While many whistleblower statutes and programs provide the possibility of monetary awards, financial compensation is generally not the primary factor spurring whistleblowers into action. In fact, research shows that it is not even within the top several incentives.
A 2010 study highlighted in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that whistleblowers were most likely to be motivated by integrity, altruism or concerns for public safety, a desire to see justice, or, simply, by self-preservation (namely, to avoid any possible repercussions of not speaking out. The study – conducted by Aaron S. Kesselheim, David M. Studdert, and Michelle M. Mello – included interviews with 26 whistleblowers involved in cases against pharmaceutical manufacturers.
The researchers found that in 11 cases, integrity and strong ethical standards were the main driving force in bringing the whistleblower’s lawsuit. For another 7 whistleblowers, a common theme was a desire to prevent risks to public health. An equal number were driven by a sense of justice, and finally, 5 whistleblowers said that it had been fears of legal consequences they themselves might face due to the fraud that spurred them to speak out about it.
“The study finds what we see regularly – most whistleblowers act simply because they want to do the right thing,” says whistleblower attorney Jeffrey F. Keller, a partner with the whistleblower law firm Keller Grover. “And when you think about it, that really makes sense. A whistleblower lawsuit is no simple matter. It can be complex and take time, and while many of the key whistleblower laws prohibit retaliation against insiders who speak out, the reality is, it happens, and seeking redress can be a process, too. Sometimes it’s the easiest explanation that is the right explanation: these are individuals that simply want to stamp out bad behavior.”
That desire to do the ethical thing, to keep the public safe from harm, to see justice prevail, or simply to protect themselves has had important consequences in recent years. Since it was significantly modified to empower whistleblowers in the mid-1980s, the federal False Claims Act – the gold standard of whistleblower statutes – has enabled the recovery of billions of dollars fraudulently obtained from the government. It has also helped put a stop to many improper, and in some cases even dangerous, practices, in frauds in areas such as defense procurement and Medicare and Medicaid.
In Fiscal Year 2014 alone, the False Claims Act spurred the recovery of more than $5 billion. Whistleblowers – who can receive up to 30 percent of the government’s recovery – were awarded $435 million during the same period.
“When people talk about whistleblower laws and programs – like the initiatives created by the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission – they often point to the financial incentive,” says Keller, whose firm has offices in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. “But being a whistleblower is about so much more than a monetary award as the study shows. It’s hard work frequently fraught with personal risk for the person exposing the fraud. ”
That whistleblowers have been so successful in beating back fraud speaks to the robustness of the system they can rely on, adds Keller. “There is a whole infrastructure in place to protect whistleblowers – from the laws including anti-retaliation provisions to the lawyers who work with them,” the veteran attorney says. “It is a mechanism that is well oiled, well functioning, and well on its way to beating back all manner of fraud.”
While whistleblowers may receive monetary awards for identifying fraud, their motivations are more often linked to integrity, public safety, and justice says Jeffrey Keller a leading Qui tam lawyer from San Francisco.
Jeffrey Keller – Whistleblower Lawyer
Keller Grover LLP