At the Healthcare Fraud Institute this past week, I was asked to address what steps whistleblowers should take to ensure confidentiality of emails with their lawyers. Although qui tam cases under the False Claims Act were the focus of our discussion, the same principles apply to tax whistleblowers and SEC whistleblowers.
Potential whistleblowers should never use their company’s email system, or any email account shared with or accessible to another person, for communicating with their attorney or for gathering information or evidence to report to the government.
Although the law encourages whistleblowers to report fraud, whistleblowers can create unnecessary problems for themselves by not following this rule.
First, emails between whistleblowers and their attorneys are privileged and confidential, but the privilege can disappear and be waived if the communication is disclosed to others.
Second, qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act are filed with a court order “sealing” the case from public view, while the government investigates. If an email accidentally exposes the case, the whistleblower may have violated the court’s “seal” order.
Third, alerting a defendant company that the whistleblower has reported the company’s fraud to the government is almost certain to provoke retaliation against an employee who is a whistleblower. Immediate suspension or firing often follows. Although the False Claims Act and the SEC and CFTC whistleblower laws create remedies for retaliation, those remedies take time to achieve. They will not pay the whistleblower’s mortgage next month–or this year.
We advise all of our clients that they must protect the confidentiality of their emails. Many people do not realize that emails sent from a company’s computer system usually leave some record, even if the employee is accessing a personal Gmail account.
Continue reading →