Whistleblowers report these illegal acts to organizations who can take action against the responsible companies. Although whistleblowers are generally employees of privately owned business, they are can also be employees of the government, such as FBI whistleblowers.
In most cases, the wrongdoing that is being reported is a violation of the law. Often, it is also a threat to the public interest. Offences that lead to whistleblowing include fraud, corruption, and civil rights violations. Whistleblowers must be certain that their organization is committing an unlawful act. They cannot report wrongdoing based only on rumor or gossip.
The first legislation in the U.S. designed to protect whistleblowers was the Lloyd-La Follette Act of 1912. The Act guarantees the right of federal employees to give information to Congress. Since then, there have been various acts to protect employees, including the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
In the United States, there are protection laws for whistleblowers who face sanctions from their organizations. Congress added anti-retaliation protection to the False Claims Act in 1986. According to these provisions:
Any employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of his employer or others in furtherance of an action under this section, including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole.In cases where the whistleblower proves that his organization retaliated against him, he is entitled to remedies including (but not limited to) reinstatement, double back pay and special damages.
If a whistleblower feels that he is the victim of retaliation from his organization, he must report it immediately. Some statutes of limitations are only 30 days from the date of the retaliation. This means that a claim of retaliation must be made within 30 days or it will not be investigated.
Unfortunately, many whistleblowers are persecuted for their actions. Some receive death threats and other ominous messages, many find they either lose their job or are demoted, and some, as in the case of Frank Serpico, are the targets of violence. Serpico, who uncovered corruption in the New York Police Department, was shot in the face in what may have been retaliation for his participation in the Knapp Commission, which was convened to investigate allegations of corruption in the NYPD. Frank Serpico was the first police officer to testify against police corruption and was portrayed by Al Pacino in the movie Serpico.
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His information led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and to prison terms for various presidential aides. The character "Deep Throat" was played by Hal Holbrook in the movie All the President's Men, although at the time the movie was made, the real identity of Deep Throat was not known. Another famous whistleblower is Jeffrey Wigand, who exposed his company's intentional manipulation of nicotine in cigarettes. His story was made into the movie The Insider, starring Russell Crowe.