A whistleblower law provides protections for employees who wish to report any misconduct committed by their employer. Usually such laws create reporting procedures for the organization, and they also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who file complaints.

What is a Whistleblower?

A “whistleblower” is an employee who reports an employer who has broken the law to an outside agency. Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers and encourage employees to speak up when they see wrongdoing by the employers.

Employers may not retaliate against them for reporting misconduct. Whistleblowers may not be fired or otherwise mistreated, and in some instances the government may reimburse them for costs incurred as a result of reporting. 

Does California have a Whistleblower Law?

Yes. California has its own version of whistleblower laws that expand from the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws, Under California Labor Code Section 1102.5, your employer cannot prohibit you from whistleblowing. This law also protects employees from retaliation.

If an employer does retaliate against you by firing you, Section 1102.5 states that you must be reinstated your employment, and you may recover any lost benefits or wages.

What Do I Do if I Want to Report My California Employer or if they have Retaliated Against Me?

Your first step will be to report within the company itself. Organizations are now required by law to provide employees with procedural processes for reporting misconduct. If the situation is not resolved internally, or if the employer retaliates against you, you usually cannot file a lawsuit immediately.

Your next course of action would be to file a wrongful discharge claim or general whistleblower claim with the appropriate court. You have two years from the date of the violation to file this claim.

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What Kinds of Actions by the Employer Constitute Retaliation?

A California employer’s actions are considered to be retaliation if their employee’s lawful reporting was a contributing factor in the decision to take “unfavorable” action. Unfavorable retaliatory action can include:

  • Discharging or laying off (firing) the employee
  • Placing the employee on a blacklist (“do not hire” list)
  • Demotion from a position
  • Pay reductions or reductions in hours
  • Withholding of wages, overtime pay, or promotions
  • Denying benefits
  • Disclosing antitrust violations
  • Refusing to sign non-compete agreements
  • Not hiring or rehiring the person
  • Intimidating, harassing, or otherwise mistreating the employee
  • Reassignment to an unsuitable post or position

What Damages are Recoverable Against Employer Retaliation?

A California employee whistleblower that is fired because of whistleblowing can recover compensation for lost wages and benefits. In addition, a court may award the fired employee punitive damages if the employer acted maliciously and attorney fees.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Handle My Case?

You may want to contact a lawyer at the very beginning of your situation, even before you have filed a complaint within your company. An attorney will be able to help you sort out the facts and details of any wrongdoing that your employer may have committed. As you can see, the process for filing a complaint involves many steps, and a qualified California employment lawyer can assist you in making sure that you are protected and receive relief.