Updated May 15, 2012, with an eighth way the Grimm Act would undermine the corporate whistleblower program.
Corporate criminals rejoice. The Grimm Act packs seven deadly punches for whistleblowers. This law would make it more difficult for employees to report Wall Street corruption, Ponzi schemes, and other fraud – not easier. What happened to Congress fighting fraud?
The leadership in the House of Representatives is positioning the Grimm Act (H.R. 2483) to move quickly through Congress. It’s a license to steal for Wall Street and big corporations. Here’s how:
1. Gag Orders Legalized
The Grimm Act permits companies to enforce, “any established employment agreements, workplace policies, or codes of conduct,” regardless of the impact on the right of an employee to report corporate crimes. This means that companies can force employees to sign agreements forfeiting their whistleblower rights.
2. Workplace Retaliation Legalized
“Any adverse action taken against a whistleblower for any violation of such agreements, policies, or codes shall not constitute retaliation.” It looks like retaliation, smells like retaliation, but it’s not retaliation. (Emphasis added to the bill text.)
3. Law Enforcement Crippled
The Grimm Act requires the SEC to, “promptly notify any entity that is to be subject to [an investigation]” before beginning an investigation. Tipping off companies suspected of violating the law allows the corporations to intimidate witnesses and tamper with evidence before the investigation begins.
4. Whistleblower Anonymity Destroyed
The Grimm Act allows, and in most cases requires, the SEC to, “disclose to the employer’s audit committee such information provided by the whistleblower.” This means that the SEC would not only be unable to guarantee confidentiality, but it would be required to turn whistleblowers over to the very corporations accused of wrongdoing.
5. Corporate Accountability Minimized
The Dodd-Frank Act provides incentives for companies to self-report violations, including reduced fines and penalties. The Grimm Act creates a gaping loophole, allowing companies to claim they self-reported even when a whistleblower makes a report to the SEC. This applies even if the company initially covered up problems and retaliated against the whistleblower.
6. Most Whistleblowers Disqualified
People found guilty of fraud are reasonably excluded from obtaining the benefits of the new SEC whistleblower program. However, the Grimm Act disqualifies employees who in any way “participated in” a violation. This subtle-but-deliberate disqualification in the Grimm Act would cut out the vast majority of whistleblowers from protection, as almost every whistleblower “participates” in the violations they uncover. Think of all the low- and mid-level employee¬s, such as secretaries who take phone calls and clerks who make photocopies. These people are “participating” in violations, and are therefore disqualified from the whistleblower program.
7. Awards Program Broken
The Grimm Act makes whistleblower awards discretionary, returning the SEC whistleblower program to its pre-Dodd Frank Act status. That version of the program was completely discredited by a 2010 report by the SEC Inspector General. The report showed that the SEC helped only five people and awarded only $159,537 during 20 years of operating a discretionary program. The report lamented that the discretionary program was, “not fundamentally well-designed to be successful,” and made recommendations that were implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act. The Grimm Act turns back the clock.
8. Justice Obstructed
The Grimm Act requires employees to make reports about their bosses to their bosses before going to law enforcement. As it turns out, this is the definition of obstruction of justice, a crime that packs a severe punishment. The federal obstruction of justice statute calls for prison sentences of up to 20 years for those who, bear with me now, “hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense.” Yes, laws are a bit wordy, but there’s not much wiggle room here. The Grimm Act undermines the fundamental right for citizens to report wrongdoing to law enforcement. It’s an obstruction of justice.
If you want your Member of Congress to fight fraud and protect your investments, take action and ask them to oppose Wall Street’s license to steal. Share your thoughts about the Grimm Act in the comments.