Omid Nosrati

What protection does California law provide to whistleblowers? - II

Last week, our blog began discussing how those employees who find themselves in the unenviable position of wanting to report illegal employer conduct, but also fearing potential reprisals must understand that they are protected under state law.

Specifically, we discussed how employees of public and private entities who report violations of state or federal law, noncompliance with rules/regulations or unsafe working conditions are protected from workplace retaliation by the California Labor Code, and how similar protection is extended to those employees who refuse to participate in such conduct. 

The next logical step in this examination then is to take a closer look at the degree of protection afforded by the state's whistleblower statute:

  • Employers cannot draft, enforce or adopt policies, regulations or rules designed to prevent employees from acting as whistleblowers.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees who act as whistleblowers (i.e., revealing illegal conduct, exposing rule violations, etc.).
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees who decline involvement in illicit activities otherwise covered by the whistleblower statute.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees for having acted as whistleblowers in any former employment setting.

As to what workplace retaliation might look like, it's important to understand that while it can be fairly blatant, it can also be far more subtle, yet no less pernicious.

By way of example, after learning that an employee has reported an act of wage theft to the California Department of Industrial Relations, an employer would be prohibited from taking any of the following actions as a sort of retribution:

  • Terminating or demoting the employee
  • Transferring the employee to a less desirable position
  • Making the employee's working conditions more demanding (i.e., changing day shifts to night shifts)
  • Giving the employee a performance report that doesn't accurately reflect the quality of the work performed

In the event an employer is determined to have violated the whistleblower protection law, they are subject to fines, and may be ordered to either reinstate or reimburse the affected employee. Furthermore, the affected employee must know that they may also have the option of pursuing a civil action against their employer.

If you believe your employer has either terminated you or retaliated against you for reporting malfeasance, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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