While we certainly had a lot to be thankful for over the Thanksgiving holiday, we also received the disturbing news that a new variant of COVID-19 named Omicron could dash our hopes for a return to “normal” anytime soon. I am beginning to question what “normal” is, and obviously the concept of “new normal” takes on a whole new meaning if we have to embrace another round of public health measures to combat the latest variant as we approach two full years into this global pandemic.
Among the many things that have not been normal throughout this pandemic has been the amount of whistleblower complaints. In this Cooley memo, a huge spike in whistleblower claims is noted on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, the SEC reported that it paid out more in whistleblower awards in fiscal year 2021 than in all prior years combined since the whistleblower program began in 2011, while the trend in Europe was similar, with two notable whistleblower protection charities there reporting an increase of up to 40% in the number of whistleblowing complaints in 2020-21 when compared to previous years.
The memo notes:
COVID-19 itself is a major contributor to these growing whistleblower numbers. With many employees working from home, they may feel less connected to their employers and colleagues and more inclined to reach out to the authorities without first raising allegations to their employer (for example, by way of the confidential whistleblowing hotline maintained by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK). In addition, whistleblowers may also find it easier to anonymously collect information relevant to their complaints when they have access to these materials from home.
We have been closely following the trends in whistleblower activity and you can expect a webcast on this topic early next year. Stay tuned for the announcement!