Throughout history, whistleblowers have been crucial catalysts for change in every aspect of society. Whistleblowers within the FBI such as W. Mark Felt have exposed sinister government plots that threaten the very tenets of democracy. Whistleblowers in the tobacco industry such as biochemist Jeffrey Wigand created massive public health reform by shedding light on shady tactics used to minimize public understanding of the true dangers of cigarettes. These are just a few examples of how the knowledge delivered by whistleblowers can shape history. This infographic from the Parker Waichman law firm explores whistleblowers from the dawn of America, starting with Benjamin Franklin.
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What Is a whistleblower?
According to the National Whistleblower Center, a whistleblower is “someone who reports waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, or dangers to public health and safety to someone who is in the position to rectify the wrongdoing. A whistleblower typically works inside of the organization where the wrongdoing is taking place; however, being an agency or company ‘insider’ is not essential to serving as a whistleblower.”
Are Whistleblowers Protected by Law?
Whistleblowers are legally protected in the United States by the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was made federal law in 1989. Whistleblowers are protected from retaliation for disclosing information that they reasonably believe serves as evidence of a violation of laws, rules, and regulations, poor management, gross waste of funds, abuse of power and authority, or danger to public health and safety.
According to a document published by the Office of Special Counsel (the agency responsible for managing whistleblower reports and providing whistleblower protection), a whistleblower “discloses information he or she reasonably believes evidences:
- “A violation of any law, rule, or regulation
- “Gross mismanagement
- “A gross waste of funds
- “An abuse of authority
- “A substantial or specific danger to public health
- “A substantial and specific danger to public safety”
Currently, there are dozens of laws on the federal and state levels that help protect and regulate whistleblowers so that they are free to act in the best interest of America, its citizens, and the environment. These include the False Claims Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Antarctic Conservation Act.
Who Was the First Whistleblower?
Several individuals during the early days of America reported injustices, including Benjamin Franklin, but the United States did not officially begin protecting whistleblowers until 1777. The Founding Fathers passed the first whistleblower protection law within seven months of the Declaration of Independence. Among the earliest whistleblowers who sought government protection were ten American sailors who reported abuses of authority by the Continental Navy’s commander in chief, Esek Hopkins. They revealed that he was treating British captives inhumanely. The Continental Congress backed the sailors, and Hopkins promptly lost his prestigious position.
Do Whistleblowers Get Paid?
Yes: Successful whistleblowers are entitled to financial compensation under the False Claims Act. In general, whistleblowers will receive a percentage (possibly up to 15% to 25%) of what the government recovers through the settlement or trial. Depending on the extent of the fraud, this amount can be substantial.