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Whistleblowers should not be afraid to report employer misconduct

People in Minnesota like to think their employers are ethical, but this is not always the case. Sometimes some employers in Minnesota commit acts of fraud against the government. Should an employee find this out, they may feel ethically bound to report the acts to the proper authorities. To do so, they can file a suit called a "qui tam action." Under this kind of lawsuit, the government can be compensated for the funds it lost because of an employer's fraudulent acts. The employee who brought the lawsuit is then awarded a certain percentage of the funds recovered.

In a qui tam lawsuit, a person alleges that their employer submitted a false claim to the government. For example, the employer could overcharge the government, fail to properly test the goods it manufactures or in any other way try to cheat or steal from the U.S. government. To prevail in a qui tam action, it does not need to be proven that the employer intentionally committed an act of fraud against the government nor does the government actually have to suffer a financial loss. It only needs to be shown that the employer either knew the claim was false, deliberately remained ignorant regarding the veracity of the claim or recklessly disregarded the veracity of the claim.

When a worker files a qui tam lawsuit, it is kept confidential to the public, that is, it is kept "under seal." The action will stay under seal for a minimum of 60 days. This provides the government with the time needed to perform an investigation and decide if it will intervene in the lawsuit. If it does, it will take over the prosecution of the case. If it does not, the worker who brought the case can still pursue the lawsuit on his or her own.

While filing a qui tam action may be intimidating, it is often the only way for the government to learn it has been defrauded. Therefore, those who bring such actions are awarded a percentage of the funds recovered. In the end, it is important to hold employers accountable for their misconduct, and sometimes speaking out is the only way to do so. Those who are thinking of filing a qui tam lawsuit may want to consult with an attorney, to better understand this type of lawsuit and also to learn what rights they have as a whistleblower.

Source: FindLaw, "Qui Tam Actions: Overview," accessed Feb. 4, 2017

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