New Influx of Whistleblower Filings the 'Tip of the Iceberg'

Lawyers say uptick in complaints due to impact of COVID-19, people working from home
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2020 7:43 AM CDT
Updated Jun 6, 2020 3:00 PM CDT
'Emboldened' by Working From Home, Whistleblowers Emerge
The Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington, seen Aug. 5, 2017.   (AP Andrew Harnik)

While the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the economy, it's brought business to one particular group: lawyers for whistleblowers, who've been coming forward in increasing numbers since the pandemic hit. Per an SEC spokesman, the agency received 4,000 or so whistleblower complaints from the middle of March through mid-May—a 35% rise from the same period in 2019, Reuters reports. "Unfortunately, fraudsters often seek to exploit difficult situations like the ongoing pandemic for their own gain," a commission spokeswoman notes. The agency has even created a new group dedicated to looking for such potential abuses in a variety of coronavirus-related areas, including price gouging, health care fraud, and knockoff medical supplies, as well as other rackets tied to COVID-19, such as insider trading or Ponzi schemes.

What appears to be driving the surge in tips coming in, according to whistleblower lawyers: an uptick in malfeasance overall due to the widespread impact of COVID-19, as well as the fact that many whistleblowers may feel safer coming forward now that they're working from home, as it may lower the risk of being exposed or retaliated against. "These people have more time on their hands," an attorney from a Chicago law firm tells the Wall Street Journal. "They don't have to go see their bosses, and they may feel a bit more emboldened to report." A Law360 analysis says what we're seeing now is "just the tip of the iceberg," especially concerning claims filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over workplace health and safety violations, such as workers claiming they were fired for complaining about such things as lack of personal protective equipment. (Read more whistleblower stories.)

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