Whistleblowing refers to when an employee “blows the whistle” on his or her employer by reporting the employer’s misconduct which can include:
- Violation of a state or federal law,
- Violation or noncompliance with a local, state or federal rule or regulation, or
- Unsafe working conditions or practices in the context of employee health and safety.
The main protection for whistleblowers in California is found in Labor Code Section 1102.5.
What is Covered by California’s Whistleblower Law?
The California whistleblower law prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who reports violations of law or noncompliance with local, state or federal rules or regulations. In addition, the whistleblower law protects employees from retaliation for refusing to participate in an activity that would be a violation of law. Firing an employee for whistleblowing is a form of wrongful termination.
Under Government Code Section 8547.1, which extends whistleblower protections to employees of government agencies, it is the declared intention of the state legislature that, in addition to violations of law, state employees should also be free to report “waste, fraud, abuse of authority” and “threat to public health” without any fear of retribution.
Increased Protections Under the Whistleblower Law
In 2014, the general California whistleblower law was expanded in three important ways.
First, protection against whistleblower retaliation was extended to employees who report suspected illegal behavior internally – to either a supervisor or another employee with authority to investigate, discover or correct the reported violation.
Second, employees also now receive protection if they believe they have been retaliated against based on the employer’s belief that the employee has either already disclosed or will later disclose a violation of law, regardless of whether any actual disclosure of unlawful activity has been made by the employee.
Third, the types of complaints an employee may make under the whistleblower protections were expanded to include violations of local rules and regulations, such as city charters and municipal codes, in addition to state and federal laws. For example, certain cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have their local laws and ordinances. Reporting potential violations of those local laws are now covered by California’s whistleblower laws.
What Counts as Retaliation Under the Whistleblower Law?
Whistleblower retaliation can take many forms. The most obvious is, of course, being fired. But retaliation can happen in other ways, as well. For instance, you could be demoted or denied a promotion for which you would otherwise be considered, you could be isolated from other workers, you could get threats or be harassed in other ways, you could be denied access to resources you need to do your job, or you could be denied access to professional development opportunities. You might also face retaliation that is related to your or a family member’s immigration status.
Can I Become a Whistleblower and Remain Anonymous?
It may be possible in some cases to remain anonymous, but you would be wise not to count on it. It can be extremely difficult to remain anonymous because many cases eventually become public. Even if it is possible to remain unknown to the public in some cases, you should still expect that the entity you are blowing the whistle against could eventually learn your identity – that entity will be entitled to defend itself against claims that is doing or has done something wrong. The more serious the wrongdoing, the more vigorously an organization may feel compelled to defend itself.
Reasonable Cause of Wrongdoing is Enough Under the Whistleblowing Law
You do not have to prove beyond “a shadow of a doubt,” that your organization, company or state agency is violating a law, rule or regulation in order to claim protection under California’s whistleblower law. You do need to have reasonable cause to believe that there is some sort of illegal conduct or wrongdoing. Even if the underlying conduct is not ultimately determined to be unlawful, making a good faith complaint based on your reasonable belief is enough to trigger the law’s protection against retaliation by your employer.
Filing a Complaint or Lawsuit
If you are thinking of becoming a whistleblower, you may wish to seek the advice of one of our attorneys before you move forward. This could help you fully understand your options in the event of any fallout.
If you are already a whistleblower who is dealing with retaliation, you might wish to consult one of our attorneys to discuss your options for filing a retaliation lawsuit.
Remedies Under the Whistleblower Law
If you win a claim of whistleblower retaliation, your employer may be required to reinstate employment and work benefits, pay you lost wages and compensate you for pain and suffering or emotional distress. Whistleblower verdicts can be very large. Jurors tend to punish companies for firing employees who report misconduct in the workplace.
Contact us if you have been fired or retaliated against for reporting misconduct. For details about our Los Angeles office, click here. For details about our San Francisco office, click here.