Whistleblower

Life in the Fast Lane: New OSHA Pilot Program Offers Expedited Review of Whistleblower Complaints

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OSHA’s San Francisco region, which includes California, Nevada, and Arizona, launched a new pilot program on August 1, 2016 that would allow complainants, under certain circumstances, to ask OSHA to cease its investigation and issue findings for an ALJ to consider.  The program is an effort to process cases more quickly in the region.  To qualify for expedited treatment, the investigator must first interview the complainant, allow the respondent the opportunity to submit its position statement and meet with OSHA and present statements from witnesses if so desired, and allow the complainant an opportunity to respond to the respondent’s submission.

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SEC Bounty Hunters Take Heart: SEC Fines Company $265,000 For Using Severance Agreements That Provided a Waiver of Any Monetary Recovery For Filing a Tip

shutterstock_150166427_200x150Today, the SEC announced that an Atlanta-based company, BlueLinx Holdings, is settling charges that its severance agreements contained provisions that it in its view might impede employees from communicating directly with the SEC about possible securities law violations. The company has agreed to pay a $265,000 sanction and to engage in other corrective actions as described below.

The specific provision at issue provided:

  • Employee further acknowledges and agrees that nothing in this Agreement prevents Employee from filing a charge with…the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission or any other administrative agency if applicable law requires that Employee be permitted to do so; however, Employee understands and agrees that Employee is waiving the right to any monetary recovery in connection with any such complaint or charge that Employee may file with an administrative agency. (Emphasis added.)

With respect to this bounty waiver, the Commission stated that “by requiring its departing employees to forgo any monetary recovery in connection with providing information to the Commission, BlueLinx removed the critically important financial incentives that are intended to encourage persons to communicate directly with the Commission staff about possible securities law violations.”

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Germany’s Financial Regulator Establishes New Whistleblower Platform

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Last week, Germany’s Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) unveiled a centralized platform for receiving whistleblower complaints, including anonymous complaints, of alleged violations of supervisory provisions within the financial sector.  The move appears to represent a shift in German ideology toward a more favorable view of anonymous reporting, which for many years was discouraged in Germany and more broadly in the EU due to the risk of “organized systems of denouncement.”  Under the new program, whistleblowers may submit reports in writing (on paper or electronically), by phone (with or without recording the conversation), or verbally.  BaFin’s press release announcing the program states that it will make the anonymity of whistleblowers a “top priority,” and that it will not pass on the identity of whistleblowers to third parties.  The program is “aimed at person with a special knowledge of a company’s internal affairs – for example because they are employed there or have some other contractual relationship or relationship of trust with the company.”

BaFin was required to implement this new platform due to an amendment to the German Act on Financial Services Supervision.  Notably, the Act only applies to the financial services sector, not including external accountants, tax consultants and attorneys. It provides that employees working in the financial services sector may not be held liable for reporting potential or actual breaches of law under either employment law or criminal law, unless the report was false or grossly negligent.

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It’s All a Matter of Degree – Fourth Circuit Upholds Four-Year Front Pay Award and Tuition Reimbursement in SOX Case

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*This post was drafted with contribution from Ashley Gambone, law clerk.

Affirming a SOX victory for an employee, the Fourth Circuit in a 2-1 decision in Gunther v. Deltek upheld a Department of Labor award of four-years of front pay to a former financial analyst of a software firm and also affirmed an award of tuition reimbursement for a four-year, full time, college degree program.  The Fourth Circuit’s Gunther decision discusses the standards for proving or disproving a causal connection in SOX cases, for meeting the after-acquired evidence standard to cut off damages, and for proving entitlement to front pay and other damages under SOX.

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Court-Sanctioned Employee Theft? Self-Help Discovery May Be Protected Activity In Discrimination Cases

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Recently in Verdrager v. Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, P.C., No. SJC-11901, 2015 WL 10937776 (Mass. May 31, 2016), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held, as a matter of first impression, that self-help discovery “may in certain circumstances constitute protected activity” under the state anti-retaliation statute, provided that, “the employee’s actions are reasonable in the totality of the circumstances.”

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Hittin’ The Trifecta: Latest Whistleblower Bounty Makes Three Awards In One Week

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On Friday, May 20th, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower issued an order determining that it would award two whistleblowers $450,000 for voluntarily providing original information to the agency that led to a successful enforcement action.  The two tipsters will split the award evenly.  While the order does not provide any specific facts related to the action or the parties, the SEC’s press release describes it as a “corporate accounting investigation.”

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Tipping the Scales: Whistleblower Awarded $3.5 Million For Information That Advanced SEC Investigation

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Last Friday, the SEC announced a whistleblower award of more than $3.5 million to an employee whose tip advanced an SEC investigation into the whistleblower’s company.  According to the Order, while the information the whistleblower provided did not cause the SEC to open a new line of inquiry, the information “significantly contributed” to the SEC’s ongoing investigation by focusing the Commission on a particular issue and providing the agency with additional settlement leverage during its negotiations with the company.

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O Canada: The U.S.’s Neighbor To The North Proposes Its Own Whistleblower Program

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The Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”), Canada’s largest securities regulator, has proposed establishing its own whistleblower program for individuals to report suspected securities fraud, marking Canada’s first foray into establishing such a system.

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Avoiding The Risk Of Cybersecurity Whistleblowers

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With the rise of the cybersecurity whistleblower, there is a growing trend of whistleblower-initiated regulatory investigations. In this Law360 article, Orrick attorneys Renee Phillips, Aravind Swaminathan, and Shea Leitch examine the DOJ’s investigation, prompted by a cybersecurity whistleblower, into whether Tiversa Holding Corp. provided false information to the Federal Trade Commission about data breaches at companies that declined to purchase its data protection services. The article discusses what companies can do to protect themselves against this growing risk.

Bonus Points: ARB Upholds Whistleblower Order Challenging Bonus Plan

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The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) recently upheld an order finding a semiconductor company had constructively discharged a manager who complained the company’s bonus plan violated state wage and hour laws, and in doing so, broadly interpreted the protections offered under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX” or “Act”).

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