WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS: CALIFORNIA EMPLOYMENT LAW
Misconduct takes place every day in the American workplace. These violations might never come to light were it not for the courage of whistleblowers. A whistleblower is an employee who discloses information to a supervisor, government or law enforcement agency that they believe that a violation of state or federal laws, statutes, rules or regulations has taken place. Employees who speak out against wrongdoing deserve our respect and admiration. They deserve to be rewarded, not punished.
You Don’t Have To Choose Between Saving Your Career And Doing The Right Thing
As a whistleblower, you are entitled to protection under state and federal law. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for:
- Reporting misconduct, violation of laws, or suspected criminal activity to a government or law enforcement agency
- Reporting misconduct, violation of laws, or suspected criminal activity to a supervisor at the company
- Reporting of incompetent or economically wasteful activity to the California State Auditor by a public employee
- Reporting wage and hour violations to the Labor Commissioner by an employee
- Acting as a witness
- Cooperating with an investigation
What is Whistleblower Retaliation?
Retaliation in the workplace related to an employee whistleblower can take many different forms. Some common overt and subtle ways an employer can retaliate against a whistleblower can include:
- Failure to promote an employee to a higher position
- The actual demotion of an employee, not based on employee work product or performance
- Denial of access to professional development or training
- Denial of access to equipment, resources, and training that would allow an employee to do their job appropriately
- Threatening to contact immigration authorities if there is a labor complaint
- Termination of employment
The last retaliation, which is considered wrongful termination, is the most severe, and easiest to identify. However, the other more subtle retaliation tactics can make the workplace a hostile environment. Both types of tactics are illegal according to both federal and state law. California state laws that apply are:
- 1.1. Labor Code 1102.5 LC — general whistleblower protection
- 1.2. Labor Code 98.6 LC — whistleblower protection for wage/hour and other labor violation reports
- 1.3. Labor Code 6310 LC — whistleblower protection for occupational health and safety reports
- 1.4. Government Code 8547 GC et seq — whistleblower protection for public employees
- 1.5. Whistleblower protection and related laws (qui tam, FEHA retaliation, Sarbanes-Oxley)
Whistleblower Protection Laws
The State of California gives employees who have been retaliated against due to whistleblower actions several rights against their employers. Some of the most common rights that whistleblowers have against their employers include:
- The right to sue for lost wages and employee benefits
- The right to sue for compensation for physical pain, mental or emotional suffering, and the loss of career opportunities
- The ability in some cases to sue the employer for punitive damages, which are designed to punish an employer for egregious behavior
- The right to sue for attorney’s fees
Depending on the nature of the circumstances surrounding the whistleblowing incident, and how your employer retaliated against you, will determine what actions are available to you to receive compensation for the retaliation against you.
Deadline to File a Whistleblower Complaint or Lawsuit
A statute of limitations is a deadline or time limit in which a person must file a lawsuit in a court of law or file a complaint. The following are the deadlines established in California with respect to filing a whistleblower complaint or lawsuit regarding retaliation of a whistleblower action:
- Labor Code 1102.5 – general whistleblower protection – Three (3) years to file lawsuit in California Superior Court
- Labor Code 98.6 – whistleblower protection for reporting labor law violations – Six (6) months to file a complaint with California Labor Commissioner26, or three (3) years to file a lawsuit
- Labor Code 6310 – whistleblower protection for occupational health and safety complaints – Six (6) months to file complaint with California Labor Commissioner, or three (3) years to file a lawsuit
- Government Code 8547 – whistleblower protection for state government employees – Twelve (12) months to file complaint with State Personnel Board
The most commonly used statute of limitations deadline is three years for general whistleblower protection, however, contacting an experienced employment law attorney can help you understand the statute of limitations that best applies to your case.
What if the Whistleblower Was Wrong?
There are obviously cases that occur where the whistleblower was incorrect regarding any kind of violation of law, regulation, or rule established by the federal or state governments.
The whistleblower laws are clear on this issue. Labor Code Section 1102.5(b) states that as long as the whistleblower employee had a “reasonable cause to believe” that there was a violation of law or regulations, they are still protected and afforded all of the same rights under the whistleblower laws.
Contact an Experienced Employment Law Attorney Today
Making the brave decision to tell law enforcement or government agencies that you believe your employer acted illegally or inappropriately with regard to federal or state law can be terrifying and overwhelming.
If you were fired, demoted or treated unfairly because you exposed misconduct in the workplace, keep detailed logs of dates, times, and your employer’s actions related to the retaliation, contact the employment law attorneys at Perkins Asbill in Sacramento, California. We stand up for employees who do the right thing. Whether you are in the private or public sector, your rights matter. We can help you enforce your rights without sacrificing your career.
Our lawyers are allies for employees who report unlawful employment practices such as:
You don’t need to prove that your employer actually committed misconduct. The crux of a whistleblower claim is simply that you were punished because you reported suspicious activity. We know how to present the evidence necessary for showing this direct link. We also handle qui tam cases — a type of whistleblower claim involving misconduct that impacts the federal government.