The Evolution of Whistleblower Protection: A History

Since the inception of our nation, the importance of safeguarding the truth has been recognized. Join us as we explore the history of whistleblower protections from the pivotal year of 1777 to the present day.

The journey began during the American Revolution when ten sailors and marines blew the whistle on a corrupt Commodore, which led to the creation of the first whistleblower protection law. Despite facing retaliation, the Continental Congress supported these brave sailors and affirmed the need for individuals to expose misconduct without fear of retribution, setting a precedent for the future.

Significant changes in whistleblower protection laws occurred in the 20th century. The Lloyd-La Follette Act of 1912 introduced “just cause,” offering federal employees a voice and protection against retaliation for reporting corruption. It was a foundational measure that helped lay the groundwork for further improvements.

In 1989, the Whistleblower Protection Act expanded protections for federal employees who disclose government illegality, waste, and corruption. It was a significant step forward, ensuring that those who spoke out were not left unprotected.

The need for whistleblower protections has only increased over time, leading to the introduction of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. This act expanded whistleblower protections to the private sector and provided significant financial incentives to individuals who contribute to successful prosecutions of fraud.

During the Trump administration, an anonymous whistleblower came forward in 2019, exposing an attempt by President Donald Trump to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The whistleblower’s complaint detailed a phone call where Trump allegedly sought to withhold congressionally approved aid to Ukraine to extract political favors, specifically investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son. This pivotal revelation led to a historic impeachment inquiry, showcasing the continued relevance and crucial role of whistleblower protections in safeguarding democratic processes and ensuring accountability at the highest levels of government.

Today, we appreciate and understand more than ever the importance of whistleblower protections as we strive to create a society where truth prevails. From the courageous sailors in 1777 to the visible impact in 2020, the journey of whistleblower protection is one of persistence, courage, and evolution.

To highlight the tangible impact of these whistleblower protections, it’s noteworthy that as of 2023, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has awarded over $1 billion in rewards to whistleblowers. These financial incentives, as outlined in the Dodd-Frank Act, not only underscore society’s gravity and value on whistleblowing but also serve as a significant mechanism to encourage the disclosure of information that protects investors and ensures the integrity of financial markets. This remarkable sum reflects the effectiveness of whistleblower incentives and the crucial role they play in unveiling and deterring wrongdoing in high places, further highlighting the evolution and vital importance of these protections.

Helmer Friedman LLP helping you navigate through the state and federal whistleblower programs that may reward you for reporting fraud.