What do you do if you witness your employer violating the law? What if they tell you to do something that violates the law, and threaten to fire you if you don't comply? Fortunately, federal and California whistleblower laws protect you if you find yourself in this situation.
Understanding California's Whistleblower Laws
What are Federal Whistleblower Laws?
Before diving into California's whistleblower laws, it's important for California employees to also understand what federal whistleblower laws entail. Section 11(c) of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act protects employees who are faced with this situation. In fact, "whistleblowers" are encouraged to notify the appropriate authority when they have reason to believe their employer is violating the law or if they are being asked to violate a law at work.
Protected activities related to whistleblowing include reporting fraud or illegal conduct, refusing to engage in fraud or illegal conduct, reporting violations of health and safety codes, filing lawsuits or assisting another employee in filing lawsuits, making claims of harassment, or reporting deceptive business practices.
What is Whistleblower Retaliation?
Federal law prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against an employee for filing a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding violations of any workplace laws. In other words, if you report your employer for violating the law, it is illegal for them to punish you in any way.
There are common ways that an employer may retaliate against you for whistleblowing, and all are illegal. Types of retaliation may include being excluded from workplace activities, verbal abuse, being ignored at work, or interfering with your attempts to find a new job. For whistleblowers, the most common forms of retaliation include wrongful termination, demotion, denial of promotion or pay increase, negative performance evaluation, reduction of hours, or harassment.
What are California Whistleblower Laws?
California has its own whistleblower laws that expand upon OSHA. Under California Labor Code Section 1102.5, your employer cannot create or enforce any rules preventing you from whistleblowing. This law also protects you from whistleblower retaliation, refusing to participate in illegal activity, or whistleblowing at a previous job.
If an employer does retaliate against you by firing you, Section 1102.5 dictates that you must be reinstated your employment, along with any lost benefits or wages.
Expanded Protections for California Whistleblowers
Three new amendments expanded on these protections in 2014. SB 496 protects employees who report illegal behavior internally to a person of authority, as well as employees who believe their employer is violating local laws, in addition to state or federal laws. It also makes it illegal for a third party to retaliate against you on behalf of your employer, or for you to be retaliated against on suspicion that you have spoken to authorities.
AB 263 and SB 666 tacked on additional protections. These laws will protect you if you report that you have unpaid wages, regardless of whether your complaint was written or oral. These laws also protect immigrants by making it illegal for an employer to threaten to contact immigration authorities in retaliation for whistleblowing.
AB 1509, signed into law in 2016, protects employees whose family members engaged in whistleblower activities.
What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?
In addition, there are special federal laws to protect government employees. The federal Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees of federal agencies who disclose evidence of unlawful conduct in the agency. Other laws protect whistleblowers in specific situations, such as the Federal False Claims Act, which protects whistleblowers reporting on government fraud, the Dodd-Frank Act, which protects those reporting misconduct on Wall Street, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which protects whistleblowers reporting various types of fraud.
Reporting Illegal Activity
In short, there are a slew of protections in place for you if you witness unlawful conduct in the California workplace. If you think your employer is participating in illegal activity, or has encouraged you to do so as a part of your job, you can report them by calling the California State Attorney General's Whistleblower Hotline at 1-800-952-5225 to be referred to the appropriate authority.
Contact a California Whistleblower Retaliation Attorney
If you feel your employer is retaliating against you for whistleblower activities in the workplace, Hennig Ruiz is here to help fight for your rights and the financial compensation you deserve. Contact our expert California whistleblower retaliation attorneys and let us help you build your whistleblower retaliation case right away.