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Rand L. Stephens & Richard Koss

What Are the Whistleblower Laws in California?

Whistle Blower Pointing at You

Whistleblower laws are meant to protect employers who report suspected unlawful conduct from being punished by their employers. California is a particularly worker-friendly state with very strong whistleblower protections. Read on to learn about California’s whistleblower laws and call a knowledgeable California wrongful termination and retaliation lawyer with any questions or for help with an employment-related matter.

What is “Whistleblowing”?

California law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment action against employees who flag a violation of laws, rules, or regulations. California’s whistleblower laws are codified at Labor Code sections 1102.5 (general whistleblower protection), 98.6 (violation of wage & hour laws), 6310 (violation of health and safety rules), and 8547 (whistleblower protection for public employees). California workers are also protected by the False Claims Act as well as federal laws, including Sarbanes-Oxley (concerning fraudulent investment activity) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The law explicitly protects employees who report any of the violating:

  • Potential violations of state or federal law
  • Potential violation or noncompliance with local, state, or federal rules or regulations
  • Potential violation or noncompliance with court orders or executive orders
  • Unsafe working conditions or work practices for the employee or other workers
  • Governmental conduct that is a gross waste of resources or constitutes gross misconduct, incompetency, or efficiency

Whistleblowers are protected whenever they report a potential violation to an outside government or law enforcement agency, to a supervisor, or to another employee with authority to investigate compliance issues (such as human resources, compliance officers, or in-house legal counsel). Whistleblowers are also protected for testifying before or providing information to a public body conducting an investigation or inquiry. Further, employees cannot be punished for refusing to participate in unlawful activities.

What Constitutes Retaliation?

If an employer terminates an employee after they file a complaint with HR or an outside governmental agency, then the employer is likely committing a classic act of unlawful retaliation in violation of whistleblower protection laws. Unlawful retaliation, however, can be more subtle. Retaliation can take the form of actions such as:

  • Demoting an employee
  • Denying a bonus or other benefit
  • Refusing to promote a deserving employee
  • Immigration threats to an employee, such as threats to call ICE
  • Denial of access to training, education, or certification that would help an employee’s professional development
  • Denial of access to resources necessary for an employee to perform their job duties
  • Creating, promoting, or permitting a hostile work environment designed to make a worker voluntarily quit

Employers are also prohibited from making or enforcing any policies against whistleblowing.

Remedies for Whistleblowing Retaliation

If an employer violates California’s whistleblower laws, an aggrieved whistleblower can pursue a variety of remedies, including the following:

  • Reinstatement of the whistleblower’s position or denied benefits
  • Back pay for lost wages
  • Compensation for physical pain, emotional suffering, and loss of career opportunities suffered as a result of the employer’s actions
  • In the case of especially egregious or malicious conduct, punitive damages and reimbursement of attorney fees

If you are a San Francisco employee or employer in need of advice or representation concerning retaliation, whistleblower protections, workplace discrimination, or other California labor law issues, contact the Richard Koss Bay Area employment law attorneys at 650-722-7046 on the San Francisco Peninsula, or 925-757-1700 in the East Bay.

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