COVID-19 Coronavirus Whistleblower
COVID-19 Coronavirus and the OSHA Whistleblower Act
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a whistleblower program for workplace safety violations and retaliation against employees. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that OSHA whistleblower claims have risen 30% in early 2020 compared to 2019, due to increasing complaints of Covid-19 workplace safety violations. Over 4,000 COVID-19 complaints have been filed as of December 15, 2020. More than 1,000 of these complaints are docketed for investigation by OSHA.
In addition to OSHA whistleblower reports, the number of individual employee lawsuits related to COVID-19 is surging. Over 1,200 such lawsuits and counting have been filed around the country. COVID-19 lawsuits brought by employees include allegations of retaliation, negligence, wrongful death, unsafe workplace disputes, wrongful termination, and wage and hour violations. Many industries have been implicated, including retail, restaurant and food service, healthcare, transportation, online retail, and more.
Employee reports of non-compliance with CDC and OSHA worker safety guidelines are on the rise. Safety failures include:
Lack of protective equipment: Essential workers not provided with protection such as masks, gloves, sanitation equipment, or COVID-19 testing.
Lack of sick leave: Employers who have not adjusted their policies regarding sick leave make it such that workers are forced to choose between foregoing pay or arriving to work sick. Sick workers result in increased danger and exposure to other workers. Many Whole Foods and Amazon (which owns Whole Foods) workers have called out the lack of sufficient sick leave during the pandemic.
If you or a loved one has experienced an unsafe work environment, our experienced OSHA and workplace discrimination attorneys can assist in filing a claim against your employer and ensuring the company takes corrective action. For a free and private legal consultation, contact Schneider Wallace at 1-800-689-0024 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID-19 Relief Fund Fraud
Several major legislative initiatives have sought to address COVID-19’s devastating effects on the economy, and include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as well as the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. These measures were designed to assist employers remain in business during the pandemic. Unfortunately, some employers have used these programs improperly or illegally to collect funds. The False Claims Act makes the misuse of government funds a crime and provides whistleblowers with up to 30 percent of any government recovery as an award for exposing the improper or illegal collection of funds.
Whistleblowers can report false or fraudulent activity related to the coronavirus government programs including:
- Receiving government funds for which the business is not eligible or entitled
- Spending government pandemic relief funds for improper expenses
- Providing defective or substandard equipment including protective equipment
- False test results for vaccine or treatment approval
- Kickbacks to government officials for contracts related to pandemic government spending
- Mischarging or overcharging the government for goods or services
- Falsifying information in applications for pandemic relief funds, including through the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program
- Performing unnecessary tests or treatments, including offering free testing, in order to charge Medicare, Medicaid or other government healthcare programs
- Invoices to Medicare, Medicaid or other government healthcare programs for pandemic services not provided
- Upcoding to charge higher rates to Medicaid patients related to COVID-19
Pandemic schemes to defraud the government have become so common that the FBI released a report to help the public spot such schemes. The FBI wanted to highlight these particular frauds:
- COVID-19 Testing Schemes: Beware of individuals who contact you in person, by phone, or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to take a COVID-19 test. These scammers will likely ask for your health insurance information, including your Medicare or Medicaid number, and other personal information. Prior health care fraud investigations have shown that once scammers obtain an individual’s personal information, they use it to bill federal health care programs and/or private health insurance plans for tests and procedures the individual did not receive and pocket the proceeds. Be cautious of any unsolicited offers that require or request your medical insurance information.
- COVID-19 Treatment Schemes: Scammers are working hard to sell fake cures, treatments, and vaccines. Ignore unsolicited offers for these fake procedures. Do not provide any personal information, including your financial information, Medicare or Medicaid number, or private health insurance information to anyone offering such products or services.
If you know of fraudulent activity, either in charging the government incorrectly for pandemic-related activity or illegal use of government pandemic program funds, contact Schneider Wallace to discuss your potential whistleblower claim. Schneider Wallace are experienced whistleblower attorneys ready to assist you. For a free and private legal consultation, contact Schneider Wallace at 1-800-689-0024 or email@example.com.
COVID-19 Whistleblower Retaliation
OSHA sent a news release in April 2020 reminding employers that it is illegal to retaliate against workers who report unsafe or unhealthful working conditions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Acts of retaliation include:
- Wrongful termination
- Denials of overtime
- Denials of promotion
- Wrongful termination
- Reduction in pay
- Reductions in hours
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Harassment or intimidation
- Reassignment to a less desirable position
- Constructive discharge
- Other actions including mocking, false low performance reviews, isolation
Any retaliation, even one such as the denial of overtime hours that would normally be approved, is an illegal retaliation against the employee who is reporting workplace safety issues.
There are more than 20 environmental and workplace safety laws that are enforced by OSHA and which include whistleblower provisions providing protection to employees and whistleblowers. The laws providing whistleblower protection include:
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA)
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Respond Act (AHERA)
- Clean Air Act (CAA)
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
- Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA)
- Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA)
- Energy Reorganization Act (ERA)
- FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
- Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA)
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA)
- International Safe Container Act (ISCA)
- Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21)
- National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA)
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), Section 11(c)
- Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA)
- Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
- Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA)
- Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA)
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA)
- Taxpayer First Act (TFA)
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21)
Employees are afforded retaliation protection even if they report activity that is not unlawful. The employee must have a reasonable, good faith belief that a violation could be occurring.
The False Claims Act regarding whistleblowers reporting fraudulent use of government funds, or fraudulent charges to the government, also provides whistleblower protections.
COVID-19 Whistleblower Award
The False Claims Acts whistleblower provisions seek to encourage whistleblower to expose government fraud, abuse or waste by offering large financial rewards to the whistleblower. A qui tam lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act allows the whistleblower to recover up to 15 to 30 percent of a recovery.
Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt recently remarked on the substantial value and need for whistleblowers, stating that:
“Whistleblowers continue to play a critical role identifying new and evolving fraud schemes that might otherwise remain undetected. Taxpayers have benefited greatly from these individuals who are often required to make substantial sacrifices to bring these schemes to light.”
Qui tam lawsuits for health and human services departments, such as those against hospitals or drug manufacturers, have resulted in $1.9 billion in settlement and $244 million in whistleblower rewards. The $244 million rewarded to whistleblowers represents an average award of 13 percent.
In addition to the False Claims Act, COVID-19 financial misconduct can also occur. The SEC has their own separate whistleblower program for claims of financial misconduct. COVID-19 related financial fraud can include:
- Insider trading, such as buying or selling stocks using non-public information related to COVID-19
- False disclosures in financial statements, including hiding business weaknesses related to COVID-19
- Market manipulation
- Fraudulent statements regarding business activity or business activity changes during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Microcap fraud: Fraud related to microcap stocks which are small volume and vulnerable to illegal investment schemes including pump-and-dump schemes
If you have information of OSHA violations, False Claim Act violations, or SEC security law violations, you should speak to an attorney immediately to discuss your claim and ensure a claim is timely filed.
Coronavirus Employment Lawyer
Schneider Wallace represents whistleblowers, whether the violation or fraud is on the federal government, state government, a local government or a government contractor. We can assist in claims of OSHA violations for failing to protect workers, and cases of fraud against the government for misuse of pandemic assistance funds.
Schedule a free and private consultation with our whistleblower attorneys. Contact us at 1-800-689-0024 or firstname.lastname@example.org.