The term whistleblower appears every now and again in the news. For example, the most famous whistleblower in recent times was the very high-profile Edward Snowden.

It is highly unlikely that if you engage in whistleblower activity that it will be as high-profile as the Snowden case; however, understanding the exact definition of a whistleblower and the protections they have is very important. According to FindLaw, a whistleblower is an individual who learns about illegal or unethical activity and either reports it to the authorities or simply refuses to participate.

What is the history of whistleblowing?

Laws pertaining to whistleblowers have been on the books since the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Originally, Congress passed the False Claims Act of 1863 to encourage individuals to report wrongdoing against the government. In this way, the government could prosecute fraudsters and the whistleblower would receive a percentage of recovered income.

What are common varieties of modern whistleblowing?

Any sort of wrongdoing or illegal activity can result in a whistleblowing case in modern times; it is not limited to government fraud. It is true that most claims under the False Claims Act involve health care fraud, government spending programs and military contractors; however, it is also possible to whistleblow about environmental laws, tax dodging and securities laws.

Whistleblowers enjoy protection under both state and federal laws. Depending on your particular circumstance, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act or other laws may protect you. To qualify for legal whistleblower protection, you must have a demonstrated good-faith belief that your employer was violating laws.