Majority of Americans would blow whistle: poll

NEW YORK (Reuters)- Four months after U.S. financial regulators opened a whistleblower office, more than three-quarters of polled Americans said they would blow the whistle under the protections and incentives now offered by the government.

Red whistles are seen in the eastern German city of Erfurt May 1, 2007. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

According to a poll released on Monday, 78 percent of Americans said they would report wrongdoing in the workplace as long as they could do it anonymously, without retaliation, and claim a monetary award.

At the same time, 68 percent of those surveyed did not know the new SEC whistleblower program existed, the survey found.

Law firm Labaton Sucharow, which established a whistleblower practice this summer, commissioned the telephone poll of 1,007 households.

Tipsters who provide original and useful information about securities law violations can now earn up to 30 percent of the total penalty the SEC collects from a company. The agency’s new program, which is part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law, allows whistleblowers to remain anonymous and includes protections against employer retaliation.

Corporations mounted a fierce campaign to block the new rules, arguing that they could undermine companies’ internal compliance programs. Business groups also warned that the new program could result in a barrage of frivolous tips from whistleblowers seeking hefty rewards.

In a November report, the SEC said it had received 334 whistleblower tips in the seven weeks between August 12, when the rules took effect, and the financial year’s end on September 30.

The Labaton Sucharow poll found that more than one-third of Americans surveyed had first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace. People with more education were more likely to become whistleblowers, the survey found, suggesting that more senior employees were privy to misconduct that could trigger a government enforcement action.

The government expects the whistleblower office to have a significant effect on the cases brought in the future, Labaton Sucharow’s Jordan Thomas said when he discussed the firm’s poll findings.

Until last summer, Thomas was an assistant director at the SEC, where he helped develop the whistleblower program. He moved to Labaton Sucharow in June to launch the firm’s whistleblower practice, devoted exclusively to representing people who report federal securities violations to the SEC.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Terry Baynes; Editing by Lisa VonAhn