Whistleblower experts agree that before blowing the whistle, individuals should seek legal counsel to learn what tools are available to whistleblowers.
As part of this year’s National Whistleblower Day celebration on July 30, experts discussed tools available for individuals who are thinking about blowing the whistle. Mark Toney, director of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) and executive director of The Utility Reform Network, moderated the panel. Panelists included Stephen M. Kohn, a whistleblower attorney and the NWC Chairman and co-founder, Donna Boehme of Compliance Strategists LLC, and Robert Jackson, a law professor at New York University’s School of Law and a former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
During the panel discussion, Jackson and Kohn both advised individuals who want to blow the whistle to seek counsel. Jackson said he would “urge everyone” to use whistleblower counsel, as they can provide valuable information about how to proceed with making disclosures. He also mentioned that the SEC was trying to improve its disclosure process. When asked, “How can a whistleblower avoid retaliation?” Kohn responded, “Know your rights before you open your mouth.” He noted that “there’s no one whistleblower law.” Many industries have different whistleblower laws with varying nuances; thus, legal counsel could help decipher the applicable whistleblower laws.
The panelists also discussed progress in safeguarding tools for whistleblowers. Jackson said the work he was most proud of at the SEC was fighting back against a proposal that would have made coming forward with whistleblower complaints more difficult and possibly limited whistleblower award amounts. He also said the SEC was continuing to work towards improving the disclosure process. Kohn noted that whistleblowers’ tools have increased in strength over time and that the “right to report anonymously and confidentially” and the “payment of awards” are the most important tools for whistleblowers.