The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s whistleblower program reached a huge milestone last week when it ordered Wells Fargo to pay $5.4 million in back pay to a bank manager who was fired after reporting fraud allegations internally.
The award is the largest individual award ever ordered by OSHA, which has jurisdiction over whistleblower retaliation claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
OSHA’s order details how the banker had received positive job performance reviews prior to his abrupt firing from a Los Angeles-area Wells Fargo in 2010. Wells Fargo fired him after he used the banks’ ethics hotline to report reported separated instances of mail and wire fraud by two bankers he oversaw. The bank manager has not been able to find work in banking since he was fired, according to OSHA’s press release.
Media reports indicate that this particular case is not related to the massive Wells Fargo scandal that involved the opening and closing of fake bank accounts and led to the ouster of former CEO John Stumpf.
Wells Fargo has said it will appeal the order.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley and 21 other laws that protect whistleblowers who report fraud and other compliance issues in a wide range of industries, including securities, airline, food and more.
There are four other whistleblower programs that allow private citizens to report fraud directly to the government and receive financial rewards if funds are recovered.
The False Claims Act’s “qui tam” provision enables private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government against a person or company they believe is defrauding the government in some way. Dodd-Frank created whistleblower programs at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodities Futures Trading Commission that allow whistleblowers to submit information about fraud and other illegal activity involving companies those agencies regulate. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service has a whistleblower program for cases involving tax fraud.
Like OSHA, the SEC has been actively engaged in enforcing the anti-retaliation provisions of its whistleblower program. The CFTC has also recently signaled that it will consider taking enforcement action against companies that retaliate against whistleblowers.
No matter what information a whistleblower may have, the best first move is always to contact a whistleblower lawyer to make sure you are protected.