The federal government wants to know if people or businesses are defrauding it, and therefore defrauding taxpayers. The government is even willing to offer a monetary reward to workers who help uncover such behavior.
A qui tam action under the False Claims Act is a way for individuals to bring this type of behavior to light. So what exactly is qui tam? And how can a worker benefit from it?
The basics of qui tam actions
Qui tam actions are all about fraud. If someone believes an employer that receives federal funds is defrauding the U.S. government, they can serve as a whistleblower by filing a qui tam action. What this means is, the person with evidence of this crime can sue – on behalf of the United States government – the person or entity that is committing the fraud.
The type of false claims can vary, from overbilling, to billing for services the contractor didn’t actually finish, to falsely certifying a condition of payment. It can occur on any project that receives federal funding. That can include many large infrastructure projects, such as work on bridges, highways or railroad systems.
Once an individual files a qui tam action, the U.S. government can choose to participate in the process as well, or leave it to the individual.
Why you might want to file a qui tam action
In order to help incentivize potential whistleblowers to come forward, the U.S. government offers a financial reward. The government can receive up to triple damages and fines from a liable party, meaning the total payment can quickly add up.
The person who files the qui tam action – referred to as the relator – then gets anywhere from 15-30% of the total. That is a potentially significant reward.
Things to keep in mind
Is it illegal for employers to retaliate against an individual that files a qui tam action. It can still happen, however, which is why it’s important for someone who has evidence of fraud and false claims to contact an attorney.
In addition, it’s almost always necessary for an attorney to help file the action. The complaint has to be filed under seal, where the relator’s identity will remain a secret. If a relator publicly divulges anything about the case however, it can cause the action to go off the tracks.
While qui tam actions are often complex, there is the potential for a significant monetary reward at the end. If you have clear evidence of this type of fraud, it’s important to speak with an attorney to consider your options.