When a company breaks a state or federal law, an employer has a right to speak up and make a public disclosure of the illegal wrongdoing. Whistleblowing is considered valuable to the public interest as it can reveal information necessary for the punishment of crimes about which authorities or officials would otherwise remain unaware.
Because of this, retaliation by an employer is a key factor involved in whistleblowing, which is why a number of laws and statute have been enacted to protect whistleblowers who come forward to report suspected violations of:
- State or federal laws
- Public policy
If you have been retaliated against due to whistleblowing, you may be able to file a complaint with the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency or consult with a whistleblower lawyer to explore your options, including filing a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against your employer. A skilled whistleblowing attorney can provide you with guidance and support throughout the legal process.
California Laws That Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation
Workplace retaliation against whistleblowers can take many forms, including:
- Wrongful termination
- Wrongful constructive termination, which occurs when an employer makes the workplace so intolerable that an employee is formed to quit/resign
- An unfair write-up or performance review
- Failure to promote the employee when a promotion was deserved
- Denial of access to work trainings or professional development opportunities
Fortunately, there are a variety of different statutes in California that protect employees against retaliation due to whistleblowing. Each one covers different scenarios. If you believe you have experienced retaliation for whistleblowing, it is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable whistleblower attorney in Los Angeles or a California whistleblower lawyer who can provide specific guidance based on your situation.
The legislation in California that can be used to protect these workers are:
Labor Code 1102.5 – General Whistleblower Protection
California Labor Code 1102.5 is the general protection that prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employer because of whistleblowing, which includes instances where the employee:
- Discloses information about a violation of a legal regulation to a law enforcement agency or a person with authority to investigate or correct the violation
- Provides information or testimony before a public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry about what the employee believes is a violation of a legal regulation
Employers are protected under Labor Code 1102.5 even if it turns out that their employer did not violate a law. Whistleblowing is not considered insubordination as long as you reasonably believe that there was a violation. Additionally, you do not have to actually report a violation to be protected by this law.
Labor Code 98.6 – Whistleblower Protection for Reporting Labor Law Violations
California Labor Code 98.6 provides protection for employees who report Labor Code violations to the California Labor Commissioner. This often includes reports regarding violations of minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest break laws. If you have experienced retaliation for reporting labor law violations, it may be beneficial to consult with a knowledgeable whistleblowing attorney or a whistleblowing lawyer to understand the specific protections available to you.
Many of the laws concerning whistleblowing employees also prohibit discrimination as a result of a whistle blower’s act of reporting or highlighting information about an employer’s misconduct. For instance, the California False Claims Act prevents employers from making rules that would discriminate against an employee “because he or she has discloses information to the government.”
Labor Code 6310 – Whistleblower Protection for Occupational Health and Safety Complaints
Similarly, California Labor Code 6310 protects whistleblowing employees from retaliation if they report violations of occupational health and safety rules to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). This protection, and the other whistleblowing protections listed above, also protect an employee from retaliation if a family member reports a violation.
Government Code 8547 – Whistleblower Protection for State Government Employees
If you work for the state of California, you are also protected by Government Code 8547 against whistleblower retaliation. This law, also known as the “California Whistleblower Protection Act” is unique from the other whistleblower protections mentioned that protect employees in the private sector who report suspected violations of the law.
Government Code 8547 generally provides more comprehensive protection because it protects state public employees who report any of the following:
- Violations of laws, regulations, executive orders, or court orders
- Any condition that may pose a health or safety risk to employees or the public
- Government activity that is economically wasteful or that involves gross negligence or incompetence
Health & Safety Code 1278.5 – Whistleblower Protection for Healthcare Workers and Patients
Health & Safety Code 1278.5 makes it unlawful to retaliate against healthcare facility administrators or staff for notifying government agencies of suspected unsafe patient care and conditions. Employers who are found in violation of this law may be subject to both criminal and civil fines. Employees often covered by this legislation include:
- Members of the medical staff
- Other healthcare workers
Education Code Code 44110 – Reporting by School Employees of Improper Governmental Activities Act
Education Code 44110-44115 makes it unlawful to retaliate against employees or other people who report improper government activities. Additionally, it levies criminal and civil fines against public school administrators who are found in violation of this law.
Whistleblower Protection and Related Laws
There are a few additional whistleblower protections that apply to very specific situations and employees in California. These include:
- Qui tam. Included in the California False Claims Act, this law allows an employee to sue an employer on behalf of the state government if the employer has committed fraud or embezzlement of government funds. Additionally, employees are protected from retaliation for bringing a qui tam suit.
- FEHA retaliation. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which protects employees from workplace discrimination, also provides protection against retaliation for the employee who reported a discrimination violation.
- Sarbanes-Oxley. This federal act was enacted in 2002 and gives employees of publicly-traded companies the right to sue their employer if they were retaliated against for reporting suspected security fraud to the federal government or a supervisor.
- Dodd-Frank. This law provides protections against retaliation for whistleblowers who reveal inappropriate or illegal actions taken by public corporations.
Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989
Additionally, one of the main federal laws enacted to protect whistleblowing employees working within the federal government is the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The act contains specific provisions outlining matters that must be proven in order for a federal employee to bring a successful whistleblowing claim:
- The employee made a protected disclosure
- That he or she reasonably believed showed misconduct or violation of the law, rule or regulation
- Some form of retaliation occurred
- That was directly connected to the protected disclosure
Whistleblower Retaliation vs. Public Policy Wrongful Termination
When an employee is discharged for whistleblowing, the issue of at-will employment arises. The at-will employment doctrine allows an employee to terminate employment for any reason at any time. It basically means that, absent an employment contract with provisions dictating otherwise, there are no specific durations of employment guaranteed in states which abide by the doctrine.
However, the employment at-will doctrine is not without exception. In fact, the doctrine contains public policy exceptions which include at-will whistleblowing employees. These public policy exceptions have been carved out by courts and legislations and vary from state to state in their application. In California, public policy wrongful discharge laws protect you from being fired for:
- Refusing to violate the law
- Performing a legal obligation
- Exercising your legal right or privilege
- Reporting a violation of the law that is of public importance
If your employer fires you or otherwise retaliates against you for whistleblowing in California, you should take action immediately. Your first step will be to hire an employment law attorney who can ensure your rights are thoroughly protected.
Depending on what law was violated, you may have to file an administrative complaint with a state agency before you are able to file a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit with the California Supreme Court. The state agency you may be required to file your complaint may be the:
- California Labor and Workplace Development Agency
- California Labor Commissioner
- California State Personnel Board
The damages you receive from your whistleblower retaliation lawsuit will vary based on the facts and legal basis of your case. The general types of damages you may expect to receive are:
- Lost wages and benefits
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
Shegerian & Associates Will Advocate for Whistleblowers
Because whistleblower law can be complex and varied, the assistance of a competent team of attorneys well-versed in employment law is critical. Whether you are considering blowing the whistle and need reliable advice about the protection provided by law or your career has been adversely affected by whistleblowing activity, the whistleblowing lawyers at Shegerian & Associates are standing by to assist you with the legal expertise you need to successfully resolve your issue. Contact us today for a free consultation.