Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission paid its largest ever whistleblower award of $114 million.  This is especially big news because a payment to a whistleblower almost never happens. In fact, other front-page whistleblower stories often end with the messengers having their lives wrecked.

An infographic published in Popular Science in 2018 shows all of the ways whistleblowers are uncovered.  Employers can monitor network activity, look through cellphone records and even investigate unique markings left on paper by printers to determine the source of the “leak.” 

Regardless of the nature of the whistleblowing, retaliation against whistleblowers is such a common story that many people just assume it will happen.  One third of surveyed employees didn’t think they could disclose a suspected violation without fear of reprisal in the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.  But that fear isn’t just being driven by news headlines.  It’s being driven by employees witnessing the retaliation themselves.  While whistleblower retaliation isn’t a foregone conclusion, far too many employees see it as the likely result if they were to be in a position to reveal fraud, abuse or malfeasance.

Consider these two recent stories: 

The GAO recently found that employees who file whistleblower disclosures or retaliation complaints are 10 times more likely to be fired.  For probationary employees, terminations spiked from 1 to 10 percent if a whistleblower complaint was filed.  For non-probationary employees, terminations spiked from 0.3 percent to 3 percent.

And retaliation can come in many forms besides firings.  In one egregious case of retaliation at the Justice Department, a court ruled that an employee was refused promotions because of disclosures he made against co-workers – twice.  In each case, the Merit Systems Protections Board ruled he didn’t face retaliation, only to have their decision overturned by a judge because the retaliation was so obvious.  At one point, he was the only employee who was highly qualified for a promotion but still rejected for the role.

It’s stories like these that prevent witnesses from coming forward to investigators.  Witnesses of fraud, waste and abuse know that for every celebrated whistleblower in history, there are many more who were shunned, demoted or fired.  In many cases, the injustice they observed didn’t even affect them directly – but reporting it very well may have cost them their livelihoods.

So while it might be nice to occasionally read a story about a whistleblower who came forth and received their just award, it would be far more effective if additional measures were put into place and enforced to prevent future whistleblowers from having their lives ruined.  Any and all efforts put forth to do so that result in more stories about whistleblowers who are treated well will increase the likelihood of others feeling more comfortable telling their stories.

To learn how CMTS can help your investigative agency handle cases more efficiently call us at 855-667-8877 or email us at