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How Does Whistleblower Protection Work In California?

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

A Guide To Filing Whistleblower Discrimination And Retaliation Claims In California

When your employer violates the law, you must report them to the appropriate agencies. That said, your employer cannot retaliate or try to get back at you for doing so. For example, suppose you are fired, punished, demoted, or suspended because you reported your employer, participated in an investigation or became a witness in a case centered around your employer. In that case, you might have grounds to file a Whistleblower Retaliation Claim in California.

In this post, we'll talk about your whistleblower protection rights in California, how to report your employer, and what your legal options are when they retaliate against you.

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Whistleblowers—individuals who "blow the whistle" on and expose unsafe, illegal, or unethical commercial behavior – are vital in protecting consumers, the general public, and the business environment from "bad actors" looking to make a profit.

However, exposing unethical or dangerous behavior is typically insufficient to deter firms from engaging in such conduct; businesses will only stop if they are forced to do so through litigation.

Because state and federal governments lack the means to hold every firm accountable for their decisions, they encourage whistleblowers to file qui tam actions.

Qui Tam Lawsuit Definition

In a qui tam whistleblower action, a private individual brings a lawsuit on behalf of a state or federal government agency under the federal False Claims Act or its state-level equivalent, asserting the claim that the agency would have had against the corporation.

In other words, the individual private whistleblower acts in the place of the government agency, asserting claims against the defendant's business that the agency could maintain itself and recovering compensation on the agency's behalf. A successful qui tam lawsuit will allow the individual private whistleblower to collect a part of the overall recovery as a reward for their work (this portion increases if the whistleblower successfully prosecutes their qui tam case without assistance from the relevant government agency).

When it comes to employment, California is an at-will state. This means that an employee can be fired without cause at any time. At-will employment does, however, have several exceptions. Employers are prohibited from firing employees for grounds that are contrary to public policy.

Employees may, for example, make a complaint against an employer that pushes them to work in hazardous conditions or engage in illegal acts under state or federal law.

Whistleblowers submit these claims because they "blow the whistle" on inappropriate behavior. Employers are understandably wary of employees who provide unflattering information about themselves to a government or law enforcement body. The California Whistleblower Protection Act, on the other hand, protects this personnel.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under this Act. In addition, firms cannot retaliate against employees who act ethically and report criminal activity.

Retaliation can take various forms. For example, firing, demoting, disciplining, denying overtime or promotion, cutting pay or hours, reassigning work, withdrawing benefits, neglecting to hire or rehire, intimidating, harassing, threatening, and blacklisting are all examples of retaliation.

When employees have information about their employer breaking state or federal laws or municipal rules, California urges them to alert authorities. Employees are protected by the California Whistleblower Protection Act, included in California Labor Code Section 1102.5.

  • Any person employed by a private or public employer is referred to as an employee. For example, individuals who work for the city, county, or state, a municipal or public corporation, a political subdivision, a school district, a community college district, or the University of California fall into this category.

How Do I Know I'm Experiencing Employment Retaliation?

Any adverse employment action taken by an employer against a whistleblower is illegal retaliation in California. These actions can be seen in several ways, including:

  • Dismissal of employees

  • An employee's demotion

  • Employee blocklisting (refers to the practice of limiting future employment opportunities for employees)

  • Employee reassignment to a less desirable position

  • Monetary compensation or a reduction in working hours

  • There are no regular salaries, benefits, or overtime compensation

  • Denial of a promotion

  • Employment rejection (of applicants)

  • Employees are harassed and intimidated by management or coworkers

  • HR or the employer does nothing or encourages the harassment

  • Relocating an employee to a different office or store makes it more challenging to get to work

Naturally, this isn't an exhaustive list of all potentially dangerous activities. Workplace retaliation, for example, can be described as any adverse action or reaction taken by an employer, management, or coworker within the same company or organization.

Consult a California Employment Attorney to help you sort out, record, and obtain evidence for the retaliation you suffered at work if you are unsure if you have grounds to report your employer.

How to Prove Workplace Retaliation in California Workplace?

No employer will ever publicly acknowledge that they've retaliated against you. It serves no purpose for them to do so; therefore, a direct admission of responsibility isn't something you should count on.

That said, you must acquire evidence on your own, which may include recreating timelines, explaining any discriminatory and retaliatory incidents, and displaying workplace paperwork.

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Furthermore, over the years, California courts have established several indirect or circumstantial techniques for an employee to support their retaliation claim:

  • The time between reporting your employer and the alleged retaliatory action that followed it. One of the earliest signs of possible employer retaliation is the timing of retaliatory action, such as termination, in response to an employee's protected activity. However, if you've been retaliated against after filing a complaint or reporting your employer, the unfavorable employment action could be retaliatory conduct based on your most recent actions.

    • So if you were demoted or suspended within weeks of engaging in a protected activity, such as filing a workers' compensation claim, complaining about harassment or discrimination, complaining about safety violations, or filing a workers' compensation claim, this would usually support at least an inference of retaliation.

    • Even though many courts hold that time alone does not establish a retaliation claim, this is frequently an excellent place to start and a signal to many attorneys that it's worth digging deeper into your allegations.

  • Documentation of statements indicating retaliatory actions and intent. Managers frequently make retaliatory statements, such as publicly questioning an employee's commitment to the company or in emails.

    • Suppose you're continuously getting admonished, or your recent acts (which were within your rights) are constantly being discussed passive-aggressively. In that case, it could signify that you and your boss or manager have a strained relationship.

    • Dissuading an employee from filing a complaint, on the other hand, is a red flag. It is, after all, your right to register grievances or denounce your employer to government bodies and authorities. But, in the first place, no one should try to discourage you from doing so.

    • The managers' statements about how they want to get rid of you in so many words were most likely overheard by your coworkers, and it's well worth gathering those employee witness testimonies to bolster your case.

  • Your performance scores are suddenly dropping. If you had a history of receiving excellent performance assessments before engaging in protected conduct and receiving negative ratings or warnings shortly after, this might also be used to allege retaliation on your employer's side.

    • Remember that retaliation is never justifiable. Discrimination or retaliation is considered when your company, HR, or management makes employment decisions based on your protected activity.

    • You could also tell if you're doing well on occasion. After all, if you've never compromised on the quality of your job (and you're performing admirably with the majority of your high-rated coworkers), it could be a sign that you're being singled out at work.

  • You are being punished or monitored closely compared to other employees. You can also claim retaliation if you can establish that you were dismissed for a similar infraction for which other employees usually are only given a warning or no punishment.

    • For example, if you are fired for being 15 minutes late immediately after engaging in a protected action, and the employee has never caused you or anybody else any trouble in the past for being late, this could indicate that your employer is acting retaliatorily.

    • Because an employer wishing to retaliate against an employee would look for any justification to fire that individual, this proof is well worth digging out, as it is usually found.

As previously said, establishing retaliation requires a careful review of the timing of events as well as the collecting of corroborating evidence to back up your claim.

Contact a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer to help you arrange your thoughts and evidence and develop a cohesive stance. Attorneys that have handled Labor Law Claims before are familiar with the law and can debate, gather evidence, and negotiate on your behalf with your employer and the agencies.

Filing Whistleblower Claims For Private Employees

If you are a private employee, you have various options for filing a lawsuit. The procedure will differ depending on the type of claim you're filing.

You have two (2) years to file a wrongful discharge claim or a general whistleblower protection lawsuit. After that, you can submit the claim at the appropriate court, but hiring a lawyer to assist you is recommended. Under state whistleblower laws, employees cannot suffer reprisal if they refuse to participate in illegal actions or disclose that their employer violates state or federal law. Furthermore, employers cannot enact regulations prohibiting employees from releasing such information.

  • Whistleblower policies are also applicable to future employment. Therefore, you will not be retaliated against by your current or future employers if you exercise your rights.

  • You must submit a workers' compensation complaint within one year with the California Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC).

  • You cannot be fired for serving on a health and safety committee or refusing to work in a dangerous environment. Instead, file a claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for workplace safety and health (DLSE). You have the option of making a claim orally or in writing.

Although you have six months to register a claim, it is recommended that you contact DLSE right away. You can also submit a claim with any other company that deals with workplace safety. One example is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Whistleblower Claims For Public Employees

Whistleblower claims can be sent to the California State Auditor by state employees and members of the public. Claims for "improper governmental activity" are filed with the California State Auditor. This is described as an illegal act involving the state government. It could involve gross misbehavior, inefficiency, ineptitude, or mismanagement of economic waste. It could also violate a rule of court, a governor's executive order, the state contracting manual, or the state administrative manual.

Your complaints to the California State Auditor are kept private. However, law enforcement agencies who need to investigate your case will be informed of your identity. The California State Auditor will investigate your allegation after receiving your complaint. In addition, the agency will investigate whether the employer engaged in improper governmental behavior.

The California State Auditor will release a report if there has been any improper government behavior. Otherwise, the investigation's findings will be kept private. In addition, employees who submit a complaint against the state are shielded from retribution by their employers.

When you are getting targeted for becoming a whistleblower, you need the guidance of a California Employment Attorney. They will be able to help you organize, file paperwork, and collect evidence for your case.

How to File a Retaliation Complaint In California?

When experiencing discrimination and retaliation, you'll want to report to the proper authorities to protect your employee rights in California. However, it would help if you were prepared before you do so.

You don't want to look frantic and disorganized. If you forget a few details, it might make your case look more trivial than it is. Additionally, you also don't want to end up sounding too vague; otherwise, people will think you didn't have enough grounds to make a report in the first place.

That said, here are a few things you should remember when you're planning to file claims against your employer:

  • Include as many specifics as you can. It isn't easy to conduct an investigation when you supply ambiguous information. The State Auditor of California will require specifics concerning illegal government activities. The agency will want to know what happened, who was involved, and what proof you have. Therefore, you should supply as much information as possible.

  • Make a clear identification of the person involved. If you do not provide the person's identity and the location where they work, the California State Auditor will be unable to investigate your claim. However, the agency will interview this individual to obtain additional information.

  • Offer assistance. There must be proof that the behavior occurred and that your assertion is correct. You won't be able to register a claim unless you have some proof or the names and contact information of witnesses who can vouch for your claims. This means that if you have some evidence on you, give it to them. This will not only help support your claims but also speed up the process of the investigations. If you must submit documents, make only copies.

  • You can file a whistleblower claim in several ways. You can file your claim via phone, mail, or fax. While emailing a claim is not an option, you can fill out a form online. Click here to learn more about claim submission alternatives.

Always remember that the viability of your case heavily depends on the evidence you have. You might have difficulty forwarding claims to the proper agencies if there are no signs of retaliation from work documents, photos, and messages.

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Here are some examples of retaliation evidence that you might be able to gather on your own:

  • Evidence of retaliation in the form of images and recordings. Keep track of any slurs, rudeness, or unpleasant treatment you've received. Even though retaliatory actions can be subtle, capturing them on camera can help your lawyer establish the points needed to support your case.

    • However, when photographing or filming other people, you should use caution because it may exacerbate conflicts or tensions, putting you in danger.

  • There are options for text messages, chats, and emails. Keep track of any emails, phone calls, or texts that appear to be harassing, discriminating, or retaliatory. Take screenshots of the chat rooms, and save all your emails in one place for convenient access.

  • Pay stubs, written notices, and other employment-related paperwork. These documents could show that your employer sacked you without cause, demoted you, or threatened you with reprisal or punishment. In any event, these can contribute to a hostile work atmosphere, making it more difficult for you to fulfill your duties.

  • Medical Records and Files. You may show signs of failing health if you're overworked or facing extravagant amounts of anguish due to retaliatory behavior. In addition, you can sue for non-economic damages in California, so don't be afraid to include them as proof of the retaliation's consequences.

That said, a California Employment Attorney can help you obtain evidence by conducting separate investigations. They might also hire other professionals (i.e., private investigators, economic experts, etc.) to help you solidify your claims in court.

This way, you don't have to worry about gathering and organizing the evidence on your own. Instead, you can consult or contact your Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles whenever you need updates on the case's progress.

What Do You Need To Do Before Filing Claims In California?

Whistleblowers are modern-day heroes who report criminal conduct to the authorities. However, blowing the whistle on your boss may have repercussions.

Your supervisor, in particular, may retaliate against you by demotion, exclusion, or general antagonism. Following the steps below, you can submit a California whistleblower protection claim if you have been fired as a result of blowing the whistle.

Employees in California have a plethora of protections that protect them from retribution. However, the procedure you use will be determined by the reason for your employer's retaliation:

  • You may have experienced unlawful discrimination because of your race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, etc.

  • You may have discovered a breach of workplace health and safety regulations.

  • You may have reported illegal activities or refused to engage in them.

  • Once you've determined why your employer retaliated against you, you'll know how to submit a claim.

Evidence that your protected action caused your employer to retaliate is required. In most cases, your employer or boss will attempt to provide a non-retaliatory explanation, such as claiming that your work performance was subpar. You should be able to locate evidence that refutes your employer's pretext.

The most substantial evidence is often timing—you blew the whistle on your boss, and your boss took adverse employment action against you shortly after. After filing a case, you can hunt for further proof, such as internal corporate emails that may mention you.

The best way to make a claim depends on the type of misconduct you exposed:

  • If you discover employment discrimination, you should submit a complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You typically have one year to register a complaint, so contact DFEH immediately.

  • If you were retaliated against after blowing the whistle on health and safety concerns, contact the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) within six (6) months.

  • You could bring a lawsuit in the relevant court if you blew the whistle on other criminal activities. In most cases, you have two (2) years from the date of the retaliation to initiate a complaint.

Even if you believe you can submit a whistleblower protection claim on your own, you should seek legal advice. An expert Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles can help you collect persuasive proof and ensure that you take all essential procedures.

What If You Were Fired For "Blowing The Whistle"?

According to California Employment Law, wrongful termination claim may be filed by an employee who was fired for discriminatory grounds, exercising their legal rights, or violating an employment contract. When an employer terminates an employee's employment agreement in violation of the employee's legal rights, this is known as wrongful termination.

Even though California is an "at-will" state, which means that an employer or employee can be fired at any time and for any lawful reason, with or without cause, and with or without advance notice.

Nonetheless, lawsuits for wrongful termination arise in California when state and federal laws expressly prohibit employers from discharging employees for improper reasons.

According to California termination laws, firing an employee for an illegal reason is wrongful termination.

If you have been unfairly discriminated against, Wrongfully Terminated, poorly treated, threatened, or retaliated against at work, you might have enough grounds to file claims. If successful, you'll also be able to get compensation for past and future losses, back pay, front wages, past and future pain and suffering, and emotional distress damages.

Our prescreened California Employment Attorneys understand that an Employment Law dispute can cost people their jobs, money, and emotional well-being.

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