Have Questions about the False Claims Act (Qui Tam) Rules & Realities? Here are some Answers from the MahanyLaw Qui Tam Lawyers.
The False Claims Act (sometimes called a Qui Tam) is America’s oldest and most successful whistleblower program. The law has saved taxpayers billions of dollars, saved lives and jobs, protected workers suffering from wrongful retaliation and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in whistleblower awards.
Our 11 Step Guide to Whistleblowing and our industry specific information pages found elsewhere on this website will help answer many of your questions. Still, we know that many of you will still have questions.
Feel free to review the Frequently Asked Questions below for answers on False Claims Act FAQs.
Of course, we welcome questions and are always happy to help 7 days a week. Just call 202-800-9791. Need immediate help after hours? Call Brian Mahany directly at 414-704-6731.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Should I Worry about Retaliation? Will I Lose my Job for Reporting Fraud?
- What Are the Anti-Retaliation Provisions of the Law? Am I Protected?
- Can I Collect a Whistleblower Award if I Participated in the Wrongdoing?
- How are Awards (Whistleblower Rewards) Calculated?
- How Long Do I Have to File a Whistleblower Claim Lawsuit? (Statute of Limitations)
- What Happens if I Talk About My Case While Under Seal?
- My Facts Don’t Exactly Fit, Are There Other Laws that Pay Whistleblower Awards?
- Why Can’t I Just Call a Toll Free Fraud Hotline?
- What if I Already Reported the Fraud Directly to the Government?
Should I Worry about Retaliation?
Retaliation against someone for reporting fraud is against the law. Unfortunately, some whistleblowers report they are ostracized, transferred, demoted and even fired. Our section devoted to Whistleblower Retaliation should answer many of your questions.
The quick answer is that in recent years, courts have really stepped up their enforcement of the anti-retaliation laws. Before you report fraud or quit your job, however, speak to us first. We can help you protect your job and better prepare in case you are targeted for retaliation.
Depending on your position in the organization and the industry, retaliation can be a real concern. We have years of experience and will work with you to assure your rights are protected.
In addition to the federal protections available under the False Claims Act and Dodd Frank Act (SEC whistleblowers), there are dozens of other state and federal laws with strong anti-retaliation provisions. Often you can obtain benefits from more than one law.
What Are the Anti-Retaliation and Whistleblower Protection Provisions of the Law?
The False Claims Act protects employees who suffer an adverse action because of their status or perceived status as a whistleblower. The law protects those who were demoted, denied promotions, harassed or fired.
Remedies under the law include:
- Double Back Pay
- Legal Fees and Other Special Damages
There are very special rules regarding time to file retaliation claims. There are also many other laws that may offer different or better protections for your particular circumstance – every situation is different.
Even if the harassment is intolerable, call us before you quit and before you report wrongdoing to higher ups. The earlier our involvement, the better we can protect you.
For more information visit our Retaliation page here.
Can I Collect an Award if I Participated in the Wrongdoing?
This is a common question. Many workers are forced to do things that are wrong. Often folks struggle to do the right thing while keeping their job and supporting their family (even though their boss is making them break the law). Some of us are simply human and sometimes make mistakes. We all do.
If you broke the law and think you are the first person to ask this question, don’t worry. You are not alone. Bad employers put good workers in bad positions. Prosecutors and Congress know this, too.
Unless you are the criminal mastermind behind the illegal scheme, you probably still qualify for an award. Depending on your level of participation, you award could be reduced a bit but we find folks are rarely excluded from getting paid.
The whistleblower system relies on encouraging people to come forward. We want to protect those brave enough to say “ENOUGH!” and report fraud. Throwing whistleblowers in jail or denying them a whistleblower reward sends the wrong message.
Have whistleblowers been prosecuted? Yes, but those cases are very rare. One modern day whistleblower was prosecuted not for what he disclosed to the government but for what he didn’t say! And even he received an award of $102,000,000.00 (yes that is one hundred and two million dollars)!
If you think you may have participated in some of the wrongful activity and are worried, call us. We will speak on your behalf with the Justice Department anonymously before we file a whistleblower claim.
People who have successfully claimed full awards without any reduction or prosecution include billing clerks who signed off on phony bills, physicians that accepted illegal kickbacks from drug makers and bank vice presidents that approved shady mortgage underwriting schemes. The government wants to stop the fraud, not punish those who realize that something is wrong and step forward.
How Are Whistleblower Awards and False Claims Act Rewards Calculated?
Whistleblower awards are based on how much the government collects. That means a wrongdoer could be found liable for millions of dollars in damages but the actual award is based on what is collected.
Generally, awards are 15% to 30% of what gets collected from the wrongdoer. Criminal fines and penalties imposed for other types of misconduct are not included.
If the government intervenes early in the case and does much of the investigation and prosecution, the awards are on the lower end of the scale. If your lawyers do much of the work, however, awards are between 25% and 30%.
Awards can be reduced if you were a substantial participant in the wrongdoing. There are also special rules if the wrongdoer is a federally insured bank. We can usually advise you better once you tell us the facts of the case. Again, every situation is different.
To better understand the percentage awards described above, it is important to know how the penalties are calculated. Since you get a percentage of what is collected, it is important to know how False Claims Act violation damages and penalties are determined.
Damages are calculated at three times the amount of the actual fraud against the government. For example, if a clinic overbills Medicare for $250,000, the damages are $750,000. Assuming that amount is collected, your whistleblower award is 15% to 30% of $750,000.
Wait, there is more! The government is also entitled to a penalty of up to $11,000 for each false claim submitted. Using our Medicare fraud example, let’s say the clinic submitted 100 invoices to Medicare that were fraudulent. Multiplying each invoice by $11,000, the penalties could be an additional $1,100,000! Add that to the $750,000 in damages and it is easy to see how False Claims Act penalties (and therefore awards to whistleblowers) can quickly mount.
Remember, you can only collect an award if you filed a False Claims Act (Qui Tam) lawsuit. Reporting the fraud to authorities or calling a fraud hotline does not get you the award.
How Long Do I Have to File a False Claims Whistleblower (Qui Tam) Claim or Lawsuit?
The time limit to file a qui tam lawsuit is called a Statute of Limitations. Congress required that these claims be filed within a certain time period. Wait too long and you are not eligible for an award.
Generally, claims must be filed within 6 years of the violation. In certain cases, the claim must be filed within 3 years of when the government should have known about the claim but never more than 10 years.
There are conflicting court decisions on these deadlines. If you know of fraud, we urge you to contact as soon as possible. Depending on where the case is filed, the rules may be different.
You should also contact us right away because the False Claims Act follows a “First to File” rule. Generally, only the first person to file gets paid. Wait too long and it may be too late if someone files before you. It is possible for multiple claimants to receive an award, however, especially if each has different information about the fraud or have knowledge of different frauds involving the same company.
What Happens if I Talk About the Case While Under Seal?
Talking about your case while under seal or even disclosing that you filed a False Claims Act case is quite serious. Remember, although you may have filed the case, the case was filed in the name of the government. Congress intended that these case remain secret while being investigated by prosecutors, auditors and law enforcement.
Depending on where the case was filed and what prompted the breach, the remedy could be as severe as having your case dismissed or being held in contempt of court. If the latter happens, you could be sanctioned. Lest anyone think these are just hypothetical possibilities, courts dismiss cases and sanction whistleblowers all the time for disclosing the fact they filed a False Claims Act lawsuit and/or discussing the case. The same thing can happen of the lawyer slips and discloses the case – a good argument for getting advice from an experienced whistleblower lawyer.
There is currently a split among courts as to the appropriate remedy for breach of the seal. Some courts say that breaching the seal mandates dismissal. That means an innocent slip could mean that hundreds or thousands hours of work simply are lost. The whistleblower gets nothing.
Courts on the west coast generally say the case can proceed unless the government’s investigation was harmed by the breach. Even then, however, the person breaching the seal can still be sanctioned.
Still other courts look to see if either the government’s investigation was harmed or the defendant’s reputation was damaged.
In May of 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to provide more guidance. Until that guidance is issued, however, it is anyone’s guess as to what happens if the seal is breached.
Often times our clients are called to testify in unemployment cases, questioned by their employer or have filed claims for unlawful retaliation. Sometimes they are in the midst of a bankruptcy. These events put the whistleblower in a terrible catch-22. If they lie and say they have no pending whistleblower case, whistleblowers can be sanctioned for being dishonest while under oath or to a court. Yet if they talk about or admit the existence of their whistleblower claim they are breaching the seal.
Having a good whistleblower lawyer is imperative in these cases. Usually we can work out a partial unsealing order or some other method that satisfies all parties.
Another problem occurs when a whistleblower tells family members or close friends who then disclose. Unfortunately, the whistleblower could face dismissal of his or her case in that situation. Telling your spouse is usually not a problem but we recommend all of our clients clear all disclosures with us first.
My Facts Don’t Exactly Fit, Are There Other Laws that Pay Whistleblower Awards?
The False Claims Act was written to address frauds involving federal funded government programs. Vendors that overcharge the military, healthcare practitioners that defraud Medicare and companies that hide pollution problems to avoid EPA fines are all examples of frauds that qualify for awards.
Sometimes, the federal nexus or connection is harder to see. For example, most residential mortgages are backed by the FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Because these agencies are backed with federal dollars, mortgage fraud may qualify. The same can be said for minority business set aside programs and fraud by schools that accept federally backed student loans. If you are unsure, give us a call.
Tax fraud is not covered. If you have information about businesses or individuals not paying or reporting taxes, that may qualify for an IRS Whistleblower Program award. We can gladly help you with those cases.
Frauds that involve banks may qualify for an award under the FIRREA law.
Frauds involving securities (stocks and bonds), foreign bribery and improper books and records may qualify for an SEC Whistleblower Program award. Once again, we can help in all types of whistleblower award programs.
Finally, many states and even a few cities and counties have whistleblower award programs. Presently 30 states and the District of Columbia offer awards. In two of those states, California and Illinois, awards are available for private healthcare fraud even if there is no Medicaid or Medicare money involved.
If you are aware of fraud, call us and let us help you determine if you are eligible for an award.
Why Can’t I Just Call a Toll Free Government Hotline?
Probably the saddest questions we hear come from people who reported fraud to a Medicare, Medicaid or government fraud hotline. Years later they come to us an ask if they are eligible for an award. The answer is usually and unfortunately, “No”.
Reporting to a fraud hotline does not qualify you for large awards. Depending on the hotline, you may get a small, token award but the large percentage awards are reserved for those who file a qui tam claim lawsuit pursuant to the False Claims Act.
Qui Tam complaints go to the top of the government’s investigation list. Each year thousands of hotline claims aren’t acted upon. If you are serious about stopping fraud, filing a False Claims Act lawsuit is the best way to insure a prompt and thorough investigation.
We can’t emphasize this point enough, the fraud hotlines don’t pay big awards and are not as efficient in stopping fraud.
What if I Already Reported the Fraud Directly to the Government?
Often people call us long after they have reported fraud to an outside agency. This presents tricky issues. We can often still file a lawsuit and get protect your share of any recovery but time becomes of the essence. The longer you wait, the harder to collect an award. Unfortunately, once the government takes action it is probably too late.
Our advice? Call us as soon as possible!
Where Can I Get More Information or Help?
Filing a whistleblower lawsuit is a big step. Feel free to call us with any questions you may have. Chances are others have the same concerns or problems. We will gladly share our years of experience and knowledge to help you get answers. Obviously, we also encourage you to use the keyword search tool on this website and blog.
We understand that confidentiality is important. Even if you don’t hire us, all inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege.