SEC ready for new whistleblowers
The new Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower program officially launched Friday, giving new protection and rewards to those who come forward with information. The Dodd-Frank Act called for the program, which was developed and passed by the SEC with a 3-2 vote in May. Individuals who come forward with enough information can receive up to 30% of the penalties levied if a violation is found. However, the violation must be large enough to warrant at least a $1 million penalty against the company. The SEC launched a new website, giving directions for how to submit a tip or complaint and how to apply for an award. The commission said the new program will provide better and more timely tips while maximizing the amount of resources the already cash-strapped agency needs to use. The SEC said Friday fewer than 4,000 employees are regulating more than 35,000 firms. Employees who come forward with information are provided new tools to protect themselves from employer retaliation. Whistleblowers are allowed to bring private action to federal court if the employer discharges, demotes, suspends or even harasses anyone who comes forward. Shortly after the rule passed the commission in May, its commissioner Kathleen Casey – who has since stepped down – complained the program provides an incentive for employees to bypass a company's own internal reporting in search of a payout. "Diverting a large portion of that flow of information to the government will impair companies’ ability to step in and interrupt violations at an early stage," Casey said. Internal reporting is not required for the whistleblower to obtain a reward. The employee can still report the issue internally and to the SEC within 120 days. If the company conducts an investigation and reports the results to the SEC, the whistleblower could still be eligible for an award based on action taken from those results. "Securities fraud is not a victimless crime. That's why it is so important for people to step forward when they witness an ongoing securities fraud or learn about one that has taken place or is about to occur," said Sean McKessy, chief of SEC's office of the whistleblower. "Our new whistleblower award program makes it easier for people to take that step." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.