Frequently Asked Questions
What constitutes workplace discrimination?
Workplace discrimination can take many forms ranging from obvious name-calling and violence to far more subtle tactics, such as a manager consistently assigning more favorable duties or assignments that are more visible to certain people. For more subtle forms of discrimination, it is often helpful to find a comparator – another person outside of your protected class – against whom to compare your treatment. How are you both treated in similar situations? Have you been afforded the same opportunities for training and advancement? Have you been disciplined the same way when making mistakes?
I feel like I have been discriminated against. What should I do?
Your first steps depend on the type and nature of discrimination. It’s always best to talk to an employment attorney early on. If the discrimination includes harassment, in most cases, it’s crucial to ensure that the harasser knows that the comments or conduct is unwelcome. It’s also important to report the harassment, as employers may be able to avoid or minimize their liability if they can show that they were unaware of the illegal conduct.
You should know that many employment laws have very short deadlines. Some laws give employees as little as 30 days to file an administrative complaint and preserve their right to bring a lawsuit. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Call our employment law attorneys today.
How do I protect myself from workplace discrimination?
One of the best ways to protect yourself from discrimination is through good communication. While all discrimination is hurtful and offensive, not all of it is intentional. Sometimes discrimination is the result of misguided company policies or uninformed and insensitive co-workers. Speaking up about discriminatory situations can help end workplace discrimination and prevent future occurrences. Call our employment law attorneys today to discuss your specific situation.
What is Age Discrimination?
Age discrimination is the act of an employee or employer taking negative actions against someone because of their age. This discrimination can appear as denying them a job or promotion or even firing someone because of their age.
What is a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment or modification to a job position or the environment around it. This adjustment can include a preferred parking spot, a specific desk assignment, or a flexible schedule for medical appointments.
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The FMLA act ensures that eligible employees get the time off they need for specific family and medical emergencies. It is important to note that this time off is unpaid.
Does my employer have to provide me with medical leave for pregnancy?
The FMLA does require employers to provide their employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth.
Can I take medical leave to care for my parent?
The FMLA grants an employee the ability to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members, including children, spouses, or parents in serious medical conditions.
What is an independent contractor?
An independent contractor is a self-employed person whose payer can control the result of their labor but not how they get to that result.
Did my employer misclassify me as an independent contractor?
Independent contractors almost always use their own equipment. A telltale sign of misclassification is an employer refusing to supply you with work equipment.
Does my employer have to pay me overtime?
Most times, employers will need to pay over time. However, one reason not to would be for “reasonable overtime” if the employee has a higher pay rate to compensate for a reasonable amount of extra work. Certain employee classifications are also ineligible for overtime, such as an independent contractor.
Did my employer misclassify me as ineligible for overtime?
If an employer misclassified you as an independent contractor, it would make you ineligible for overtime. If they tell you that you are not eligible for overtime, verify your classification to confirm your eligibility.
Can my employer fire me for no reason?
It all depends on your employee agreement. Most positions are “at-will,” meaning that an employer can fire you without reason. However, if your employment agreement specifies it, your employer will need a valid reason to fire you.
What is wrongful termination?
“Wrongful termination” refers to when an employer fires an employee in a manner that goes against their employee contract. A common example of this kind of termination is discriminatory firing.
What is sexual harassment?
Any unwanted sexual conduct toward another person is sexual harassment. This harassment can take the form of sexual advances, propositions, verbal or physical harassment.
My former employer is saying negative things about me. What options do I have?
Your former employer has the right to say what they want about former employees within reason. If their statements interfere with your ability to gain other employment, or they are lying in their claims about you, you may be able to file a claim against them for defamation.
I know an individual or a company that is committing fraud. Can I file a False Claims Act case?
Companies commit many types of fraud, but the False Claims Act targets fraud explicitly against the government or a government program. Put another way, the scam must include making or using a false record or statement to get money from the government. There may be other remedies if you know of fraud against nongovernment individuals or entities, but the False Claims Act only addresses fraud involving government funds.
What if I work for a publicly traded company that is committing fraud, but the government is not the victim?
The Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program went into effect in August 2011 to encourage the reporting of any securities violation. If you are aware of a publicly traded company that is committing securities fraud, such as insider trading, hiding negative information from the public or filing false statements, you may qualify for an award if you report information to the SEC that leads to a recovery of more than one million dollars from the offending company. For more information about filing an SEC whistleblower claim, click here.
What does a False Claims Act case involve?
An individual files a False Claims Act case to return funds to the government. The whistleblower first notifies the government about the fraud and discloses that they are going to file a False Claims Act case. After that, the individual files the court case and serves it on the United States and any states that may be involved.
After a period of investigation, the government has a choice to intervene or decline. If the government intervenes, it will take the lead on settlement negotiations or take the case to trial. If the government declines, the individual who brought the case may choose to move forward on their own. If the case moves forward, the government always has the option to change its mind and intervene at a later date.
It is important to remember that in any False Claims Act case, the United States is the “real party in interest,” which means that the case is really about the government’s interests, not the interests of the person who files the suit. The whole purpose of the matter is to return money fraudulently obtained from the government.
What does qui tam mean?
People often refer to False Claims Act cases as “qui tam” cases. Qui tam is short for the Latin phrase, “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequit,” which roughly translates as “he who brings an action for the king as well as for himself.” The phrase means that an individual brings a qui tam case on behalf of the government.
What is a relator?
Usually, the person who brings a lawsuit is called a plaintiff. In a qui tam case, this person is called a relator.
Is there a time limitation on when I can file a case?
It is essential to file a case as soon as possible after you have learned about fraud. The False Claims Act says that whistleblower must file a lawsuit within:
- Six years from the date of the violation
- Three years from the date the government knew or should have known about the fraud but in no event more than 10 years from the time of the violation, whichever is the latest.
For example, if a fraudulent action occurred four years ago, a suit can still be filed. Also, if the activity occurred seven years ago but the government does not and could not have known about it until now, then the statute of limitations has not expired, and you can file a lawsuit.
However, if the action occurred 11 years ago, the statute of limitations has expired, and it is too late to file a suit. Also, if the activity occurred eight years ago, but the government knew or should have known about it five years ago, then the statute of limitations has run, and a suit is prohibited.
If I file a case, will my company know about it? Will they know I’m the one who filed it?
Not right away, but eventually. All qui tam cases are filed “under seal,” which means that the defendant company does not get served (given a copy of the lawsuit), and the lawsuit is not made public. The case is required by law to stay under seal for at least 60 days while the government investigates, but often the government will make requests to the court for the seal to be extended for months or even years while the investigation continues.
The court will only lift the seal and make the lawsuit public once the investigation is complete, and the government has decided whether or not to move forward. With minimal exceptions, this is when the court reveals the relator’s name.
Can I tell my family/friends/co-workers/bosses that I filed this case?
No, the seal applies to you too! Only the relator, the relator’s counsel, the court and the government may know about the case while the seal is in place. A court may dismiss a case if you violate this rule, so it is vital to follow it carefully. As a general rule, you should not discuss a False Claims Act lawsuit with anyone other than your lawyers.
Are there any protections if my company retaliates against me because I filed this lawsuit?
Yes, the False Claims Act has special provisions to protect whistleblowers against retaliation. An employee may bring a lawsuit against an employer if the employee is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed or discriminated against because of any lawful acts done by the employee in furtherance of a False Claims Act case. The employee may seek reinstatement, two times the amount of back pay plus interest, and special damages, which include attorney’s fees.
However, this is an after-the-fact provision. The law does not force employers to rehire employees during the case. The employee only receives the law’s protection if they show that the employer retaliated because of the qui tam action.
Am I legally a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an employee or contractor who discloses fraud, unlawful acts or certain other types of misconduct to their employer or the relevant regulatory agency. Federal and state laws vary, but in general, if you are aware that your employer or even a competitor is doing illegal things, you should contact an attorney immediately and ask for guidance on how to properly and effectively blow the whistle to ensure you receive the best protection available in your jurisdiction.
I think there might be another case about this. Does that matter?
A whistleblower is an employee or contractor who discloses fraud, unlawful acts or certain other types of misconduct to their employer or the relevant regulatory agency. Federal and state laws vary, but, in general, if you are aware that your employer or even a competitor is doing illegal things, you should contact an attorney immediately and ask for guidance on how to properly and effectively blow the whistle to ensure you receive the best protection available in your jurisdiction.
I heard about the fraud in publicly available information; can I still file a case about this?
There is a provision in the False Claims Act called the “public disclosure bar,” which prohibits suits based on information that is already in the public domain and available to the government. The purpose is to discourage “parasitic” whistleblowers who only know about information secondhand and do not have unique, personal knowledge to help the government in a recovery.
Congress amended this part of the statute to bar any case wherein the “allegations or transactions” were disclosed in a federal criminal, civil or administrative hearing in which the government was a party; in a congressional, GAO, or another federal report, hearing, audit or investigation; or in the news media.
The exception to this rule is if the relator is an original source of the information. An “original source” is someone who voluntarily disclosed the information to the government before the public disclosure or who has “knowledge that is independent of and materially adds to the publicly disclosed allegations or transactions.”
Like the first-to-file bar, this requires a very case-specific analysis, so it’s important to discuss this with a lawyer.
Once I file my case, who will investigate my claims?
Typically, the government will assign each to an assistant United States attorney (AUSA) in the jurisdiction where you filed, and an attorney or agent from the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Representatives from various governmental agencies may also be involved, depending on the nature of the allegations. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services may be included in Medicare or Medicaid fraud cases, while the Department of Defense may be involved in defense contracting fraud.
Once you file a case, the government determines the investigation’s course. The government may ask the relator for help as the case progresses, but all strategic decision-making is up to the government agents assigned to the case. The relator’s role can vary greatly depending on the relator’s employment status and the investigation’s depth. For example, the government may ask a relator to provide a potential witness list, to analyze documents, or even to wear a wire to record conversations.
What can happen to the company if the case is successful?
The False Claims Act Provides for a civil penalty of three times the total amount of damages suffered by the government plus hefty statutory fines for each and every false claim. Every individual statement, bill or record sent to the government in violation of the False Claims Act counts as a separate false claim.
A company may also be liable for criminal penalties against the company or against individuals who orchestrated and directed the fraud. Criminal penalties can be in the form of fines, asset forfeiture or even jail time.
In the most severe cases, a company may face prohibition from future government contracting. For example, the government may exclude a medical provider from participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs or disbar a defense contractor. The duration or permanency of these sanctions depends on the nature and severity of the fraud.
If a defendant settles with the government, the penalties are often negotiated downward in exchange for the company’s cooperation. Usually, a settling company will also be required to enter into a corporate integrity agreement to allow for government oversight to ensure compliance in the future.
How will I get paid for my role in this case?
If a case is settled or successfully litigated, the relator who initiated the lawsuit is entitled to a “relator’s share,” which is a portion of the government’s recovery. The relator’s share amount depends on the involvement of the relator, the government and the ultimate resolution of the case.
If the government intervenes, the relator is entitled to between 15% and 25% of the proceeds. If the government declines, the law increases the relator’s share to between 25% to 30% of the government’s recovery.
However, the court may significantly reduce or eliminate the relator’s share if the relator was an architect of the fraud or substantially participated in it. If the relator is ultimately convicted of criminal conduct related to the allegations, they must be dismissed from the case and cannot share in the proceeds at all.
Importantly, a relator will not collect any portion of a relator’s share until the government resolves the case and receives its funds. There is no provision for payment to the relator while the case is ongoing.
Importantly, a relator will not collect any portion of a relator’s share until the case is finally resolved and the government has received its funds. There is no provision for payment to the relator while the case is ongoing.
Do I have a whistleblower case?
While federal and state laws vary by jurisdiction, most whistleblower cases require that you prove that you disclosed what you reasonably believed was fraud or unlawful conduct to your employer (and in some cases, the laws protect independent contractors) and that you employer retaliated against you in response (such as demoting you, removing your job duties or terminating you). If you feel you have a case, we suggest that you call a lawyer immediately.
What is the difference between a whistleblower and an informant?
A whistleblower discloses fraud or illegal conduct through proper channels while following the laws in doing so. Whistleblowers are entitled to many protections provided by law. Informants, or “leakers,” often publish information that is confidential without permission and without going through proper channels – you could classify people such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange as “leakers.” Individuals like Snowden and Assange do not have the same protections as whistleblower because they violated numerous criminal statutes and did not follow proper channels in disclosing the information.
What should you do to become a whistleblower?
You should disclose fraud or unlawful act through the proper channels and then contact a lawyer. It is also important to write down everything you’ve observed and gather evidence of the fraud to the extent you’re legally able to obtain it. Contemporaneous notes can become crucial to making your case down the road.
I want to move forward. What can I expect next?
Our firm ensures the accuracy and viability of a case before filing by gathering the facts. We also know that we need to get your claim filed as quickly as possible so you can expect things to move rather quickly. You may meet with your attorneys and our investigators several times to review documents and evidence to create an in-depth timeline of events and to make sure that there are no stones left unturned.
Once we file your case, you will begin to prepare for your first meeting with the government, which often takes place within the first few months. At that meeting, the government will want to know everything you know about the case, so you must be prepared. We will meet in advance to ensure you are completely ready.
After the relator’s meeting, you may feel like the case is slowing down. The government takes over the investigation to determine the accuracy of your allegations and whether it wants to proceed with the matter. This period can be long or short and can involve a lot of communication with the government or almost none at all. The most important thing you can do is to be patient. Our firm will work to ensure the case moves as quickly as possible and will keep you notified each step of the way.
After the relator’s meeting, you may feel like the case is slowing down. In reality, the baton has been passed to the government, and they will be conducting an investigation to determine the accuracy of your allegations and whether they want to proceed with the case. This period of time can be long or short and can involve a lot of communication with the government or almost none at all. The most important thing you can do is to be patient. Hoyer Law Group, PLLC, will work to ensure the case moves as quickly as possible and will keep you notified each step of the way.
How long will the case take?
The length of a False Claims Act case can vary greatly. Although there is a recent push by the Department of Justice to move cases along more quickly, a relator should expect their case to last for several years. A lawsuit typically lasts years and, in some cases, more than a decade depending on the allegation’s complexity, the company’s size and the government’s motivation. There is simply no way to predict this at the outset.
What types of rewards cases can I file?
Federal and state laws provide rewards for whistleblowers who report to a state or federal government false billing, fraudulent misconduct or certain other violations of law involving:
- False or fraudulent billing to Medicare and Medicaid
- Misconduct in government contracts
- SEC violations
- Bank or mortgage fraud
- Misreporting to the IRS
- Foreign corrupt practices
If you think your case falls in one or more of these categories, don’t wait. Call us now for a consultation.
What reward can I receive?
Depending upon the type of case you file, rewards can range from 10% to 30% or more of the amount collected by the government. The attorneys of Hoyer Law Group, PLLC, have obtained hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients.
What is the process, and how long does it take?
We file whistleblower rewards cases with the applicable state or federal government agency, which then investigates the matter confidentially. Although we can file a claim quickly, the government can take months or years to investigate. For sure, the process requires patience! If the government does not proceed with your case, sometimes the law firm representing you can take the case forward on its own. When we consult with you, we will go over the process in much more detail.
My company is committing fraud; what do I do?
We strongly recommend you call a lawyer immediately. Take detailed notes of what you observe, and talk with a lawyer about lawfully gathering evidence. Consider reporting the fraud through your employer’s channels as well.
I’m ready to talk, what’s next?
We will consult with you regarding your potential whistleblower rewards case. After we complete our evaluation, we will set up a time to talk with you about the next steps with your case.