California Whistleblower Protection and Retaliation Laws

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 What Is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is any individual who reports or reveals actions by a public or private company or the government, that are illegal, immoral, wasteful, abusive, fraudulent, etc. Most commonly, the term whistleblower is used when an employee exposes the illegal behaviors of their employer. 

The word whistleblower started to be used more frequently in the 1970s. It is used to replace words such as “snitch” or “informer” that have more negative definitions. They were also connected to cases that involved organized crime (for example, a mob, mafia, etc.). Activists wanted to use a more positive word. Blowing a whistle was historically used as a warning that there was danger coming. 

Whistleblower can be used to describe either someone inside or outside of the organization. Most often, it is used when there person is a part of the organization. Generally, whistleblowers report illegal activity in three ways: 

  • Internally: When a person gives information internally, they tell someone within the company (for example, a supervisor, human resources, etc.
  • Externally: A whistleblower can also report information externally to an individual outside of the organization. This could include giving information to the police, a lawyer, media outlets, or the government. 
  • Third Party: The most common third party example is an anonymous reporting hotline. Sometimes companies use a separate agency to collect and handle anonymous reports.

The term whistleblower can apply to many different types of situations. However, the most traditional example of a whistleblower is an employee. For example, an employee who works for a business decides to report to human resources that the supervisors in the office are illegally stealing money from clients or the company.  

A set of laws have been developed to protect people who provide information about illegal activity in certain situations. Most often, these laws are used to protect people who or on the inside of a company or organization. The laws protect people from retaliation or other actions a company takes against the person who revealed information. 

“Qui tam” is a latin phrase used in the legal field to describe a certain type of whistleblower lawsuit. A qui tam lawsuit is a whistleblower lawsuit that involves the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act gives a reward to whistleblowers who help the government get back money lost because of fraud. In these lawsuits, the whistleblower helps the government in a lawsuit against the organization. In return for that help, the whistleblower gets a reward. 

This type of lawsuit can only be brought in specific circumstances. There must be illegal or fraudulent activity against the government. A common example of this is when there is medicare or medicaid fraud. The government and taxpayers have lost money and can start a qui tam lawsuit with the whistleblowers help to get that money back. 

What Are California’s Whistleblower Protections?

It can be hard to know what to do if you see illegal activity happening where you work. Many people are worried that they could be fired or that there will be other negative consequences. This is the reason why state and federal whistleblower laws were created. These laws protect the person who reports illegal conduct. 

In California, there are laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. The whistleblowers laws can be found in the The California Whistleblower Protection Act, last updated in 2014. It can be found in Labor Code Sections 1102.5 through 1105. The California Whistleblower Protection Act was created using the Occupational Health And Safety Act (OSHA) federal regulations as a modal. 

California whistleblower protection laws make it illegal for an employer to engage in retaliation when an employee reports that their employer is breaking state or federal law to the government or law enforcement. The law applies to employees who work for both public and private organizations. 

An employee who is covered by theCalifornia whistleblower protection laws can also file a lawsuit for damages. They can receive money for any wages lost or be given back their job position if they were wrongfully fired. 

The California False Claims Act gives employees certain rights including:

  • The right to file a qui tam lawsuit against an employer who has taken government money through their illegal actions (for example, fraud, embezzlement or theft); and
  • The right to protection from their employer if the employee decides to report that government money was being illegally taken. 

In a qui tam lawsuit, the employee sues their employer for the government, not themselves. If you bring a qui tam lawsuit you can receive a part of the money that the government gets back. California whistleblower reward law says that an employee who brings a qui tam lawsuit can get anywhere from 15 percent to 50 percent of the money that the government gets if they win the lawsuit. The exact amount of the reward you can get will depend on your specific situation.

What Kinds of Actions Constitute Retaliation?

The goal of whistleblower laws is to make retaliation illegal and protect the rights of employees. If an employee experiences negative actions by their employer just because of their legal whistleblowing, this is illegal retaliation in California. An employer cannot take negative actions against you if you report illegal activity at your workplace. Employment retaliation can be many things. 

Some common examples of retaliation include: 

  • Firing or laying off the employee;
  • Bullying or harassment;
  • Telling other companies not to hire you or hurting your chances of getting another job;
  • Giving you a lower job title;
  • Putting you in a different unwanted job position;
  • Lowering your pay;
  • Not allowing you to get a promotion;
  • Increasing the amount of work assigned;
  • Making it impossible to finish your work;
  • Decreasing the hours given, etc.

There are other acts that can be considered retaliation that are not on this list. If there is any kind of negative reaction by your employer, supervisors, managers or co-workers, it may meet the definition of retaliation.

What Can I Do If I Have Experienced Whistleblower Retaliation in California?

If you have been the victim of whistleblower retaliation by your employer, there are certain actions you can take. In the state of California, there is a specific reporting process that employees can use if they have experienced whistleblower retaliation. 

The first step you should take is to report any problems to your company or organization. In California, state law makes it a requirement that both private and public employers put a system in place to deal with legal problems. You should use this system to report your issue. However, it is possible that the organization will ignore your complaint. In some instances, the employer may even illegally retaliate against you. If this happens, you can take legal action against them.If your employer does not deal with your legal issue, you should move on to the second step. 

If your organization does nothing, you can file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The DLSE has investigators that will look into your complaint and the actions of the employer. It is important to remember that you must file your complaint within a specific amount of time. Usually, you will have six months to file a complaint after the retaliation against you happened. 

You may also file a lawsuit for monetary damages against your employer. Remember that you must sue in the correct state court. If you decide to do this, it is a good idea to get an attorney in your area who can help you. If you were fired, you can sue for wrongful termination. Wrongful termination means that you were illegally fired or let go. You can also file a whistleblower lawsuit. Your attorney will be able to give you advice about what type of lawsuit you should bring. Generally, you have two years to file a civil claim

What Kinds of Damages Should I Seek for Employer Retaliation in California?

Under California law, an employee can bring a civil lawsuit to get remedies under tort law. If an employee experienced harm from retaliation because they were a whistleblower, they can sue to get monetary damages. If the company or organization is found responsible, a court can make them pay the employee lost wages and/or other benefits. 

In certain circumstances, a court can also award the employee punitive damages. Punitive damages are used to punish an employer for extremely outrageous bad behavior. If the employee suffered extremely terrible or malicious retaliation by their employer, they may be able to receive punitive damages in addition to lost wages. In these cases, the employer may also be responsible for paying attorney’s fees to the employee.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Whistleblower Retaliation Action in California?

It is highly recommended that you contact a California wrongful termination lawyer if you have experienced retaliation at your job because you reported illegal activity by your employer. Employment law and whistleblower actions can be very complicated. As an employee, you are often in a weaker position compared to a company with a lot of money and resources. 

An experienced attorney can explain your rights under California law. They can give you advice on how to handle your specific case. If you decide to bring a lawsuit, a skilled attorney can represent you and help you throughout the entire process.


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