The Brief: The journey for a whistleblower can go in many different directions, but all prospective whistleblowers are well advised to consider three common pitfalls.

Your Next Move: If you are thinking of blowing the whistle, take a strategic approach. A great legal partnership can help protect you and better position you for an award.

Deciding to become a whistleblower is no easy task, and there is no single right way to step forward. We have worked with many types of clients–each of whom has his or her unique story–and we are experienced at tailoring an approach to suit each client’s specific needs.

At the same time, there are common pitfalls that all prospective whistleblowers should consider when contemplating the decision to come forward: taking account of several potential issues upfront could help make a whistleblower’s experience that much more efficient, effective and rewarding.

Here are three potential pitfalls that whistleblowers should consider.

Prematurely Involving the Media

Whistleblower cases attract media attention. This is well known. Many of our clients may have first encountered the very concept of whistleblowing in connection with a news report or media coverage. But when and how should a whistleblower go to the media?

We caution against going to the media before engaging legal counsel and discussing options in detail. We are strong supporters of the media, and often build publicity into our strategy. When a whistleblower involves the media without consulting legal counsel, they can jeopardize the case
they are trying to build as well as many other aspects of their lives. The wrong kind of publicity can work against the construction of a strong whistleblower case.

US agencies that sponsor award programs for whistleblowers structure awards differently based on how a whistleblower presents information to the agency. For example, the rules governing the SEC’s Whistleblower Program require that whistleblowers qualify for awards based on the
information and assistance they provide. In a March 2022 announcement, the SEC publicized a $14 Million award granted to a whistleblower who had published her findings online but also immediately communicated with the SEC. The case, says Creola Kelly, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, “demonstrates the importance of whistleblowers reporting directly to the SEC so that the agency can promptly investigate allegations of wrongdoing.” The most direct route to reporting any information is to the agency directly, and not through the media.

All initial steps should be focused on retaining legal counsel to assist with setting up a strategy to best serve the whistleblower.

Waiting Too Long to Report

Another common pitfall for whistleblowers to avoid is waiting too long to come forward. The consequences of a delay can be harmful for a potential case and a potential whistleblower – affecting not only a potential government investigation, but also the size of a potential award.

The decision to step forward as a whistleblower can be difficult and there are many aspects of the process that need to be considered. Prospective whistleblowers should consult legal counsel about the process sooner rather than later. As difficult a decision as stepping forward can be, it would be even more difficult to step forward only to find out you are too late.

You can reach out to us with questions about timing-these are exactly the types of questions that should be asked by prospective whistleblowers.

Misunderstanding All Aspects of Liability

Sometimes, whistleblowers are discouraged about stepping forward: they think that, since they took part in the conduct, they have reasons to refrain from being a whistleblower.

This is not always the case. A whistleblower may still qualify for an award, though potentially reduced, even with some level of liability. And in most cases, the more a whistleblower assists with an investigation, the more a whistleblower can reduce the impact of any involvement.

In all cases, a prospective whistleblower must be open, upfront and honest with legal counsel right from the beginning. The role that a potential whistleblower played must be analyzed at the beginning. A legal team can help navigate some of these questions and issues.

Ultimately, keep in mind that there are lots of supports put in place for whistleblowers in your position. Avoiding the above common pitfalls will help whistleblowers take advantage of every one of them.