Railroad workers sometimes learn uncomfortable truths through the course of their employment. For example, they might discover eventually that their employer engages in very questionable billing practices or doesn’t do all of the regular maintenance work that it should based on its contracts.
Maintenance work can be expensive and time-consuming, and either individual workers who resent their day-to-day job obligations or executives hoping to cut costs and boost profit might engage in illegal practices by claiming that there was work done when there was not.
Billing the federal government for services not rendered is obviously a major safety concern for anyone working or traveling on the railroad. Additionally, it is a violation of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, railroad workers aware of misconduct on the part of an employer can potentially initiate a qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the government.
Becoming a relator can lead to compensation
Technically, employers should not punish or retaliate against employees who report misconduct internally or brings company practices to the attention of regulatory authorities. However, workers still have reason to fear that speaking up about the company’s practices will cost them their jobs or make it harder for them to pursue advancement opportunities in the future.
They may therefore consider the financial implications of their choice, and their concern about being able to support themselves and their families in the future could potentially outweigh their desire to speak up. Therefore, the government has rules in place to compensate those who serve as relators and initiate a lawsuit under the False Claims Act.
Should the claim prove successful, the person filing the lawsuit can receive between 15% and 25%, sometimes more, of the funds recovered as compensation for speaking up about the company’s billing practices. Obviously, to bring a successful claim, a worker will need documentation of the misconduct occurring and support so that they can navigate the complicated qui tam lawsuit process, which involves filing a lawsuit effectively on behalf of the federal government.
Making sense of the False Claims Act and realizing that speaking up is necessary may motivate railroad workers to put public safety first when making major decisions about seeking legal guidance and potentially blowing the whistle for the good of all.