BlackRock settles SEC charges over whistleblower protection violations

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By Sarah N. Lynch

<span class="articleLocation”>Asset manager BlackRock Inc will pay a
$340,000 penalty to settle charges that it improperly required
parting employees to sign agreements forcing them to waive their
rights to recover whistleblower awards, U.S. regulators said on
Tuesday.

In settling the case, BlackRock became the latest in a
growing list of companies accused by the Securities and Exchange
Commission of stifling participation in the agency’s
whistleblower program.

BlackRock settled the case without admitting or denying the
charges.

“We are pleased to resolve this matter,” said BlackRock
spokesman Ed Sweeney in a statement.

“We removed the language at issue from our form separation
agreement prior to being contacted by the SEC and there was no
finding that this provision ever prevented an employee from
communicating with the agency.”

The SEC in 2011 adopted rules designed to encourage people
to come forward with tips about possible corporate wrongdoing.
The rules also protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

Since 2015, the SEC has been particularly focused on
confidentiality agreements that muzzle whistleblowers from
sharing tips with the government, or separation agreements that
ask employees to waive their right to recover awards.

The SEC previously conducted a sweep that scrutinized
separation agreements at a variety of companies, and the results
are bearing some fruit.

Since then, the SEC has charged a variety of firms, from
small ones like BlueLinx Holdings to larger ones
including Bank of America and Anheuser-Busch InBev
, with violating the rules by using restrictive language
in employee agreements. (Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York)



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