Recently, a former employee of the medical equipment company, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, was awarded $51 million after he reported that the company had been using illegal methods to sell products. It was revealed during the course of the case that Olympus had been offering bribes and kickbacks to doctors and other hospital personnel in order to boost their sales. John Slowik, the former employee and whistleblower in this case, had worked for Olympus for 20 years, and was fired shortly after being appointed as the company’s first compliance officer.
Most large companies have compliance officers, and their job is to ensure that the company is operating inside the law at all times. It is notable, then, that Olympus had no compliance department until Slowik’s appointment in 2009, and that they subsequently fired him for pointing out the company’s illegal selling practices.
What is a Whistleblower and What Do They Do?A whistleblower is anyone who reports illegal activities from inside a company. Slowik, for example, worked for Olympus and so had first-hand knowledge of the kind of illegal actions being taken in order to sell medical equipment to hospitals and other organizations. Many whistleblowers, like Slowik, report instances where their companies violate federal anti-kickback laws, which are meant to prevent large corporations from giving clients unfair incentives to buy their products.
There are laws in place that protect whistleblowers and also ensure that they are compensated for standing up to the companies that employ them. Generally, the whistleblower will file a qui tam case against the company, which means that the case represents the government as well as the individual. The False Claims Act even allows the whistleblower to recover a percentage of the money that the government wins in the case. Slowik will get more than $50 million for his report on Olympus because the company will pay a total $646 million in fines for its criminal activity.
Dan Atkerson is an experienced employment attorney, and he can explain the details of whistleblower protections if you think your company is taking part in illegal activities.