How Does Whistleblower Protection Work In California?

Updated: Jan 27

A Guide To Filing Whistleblower Discrimination And Retaliation Claims In California

When your employer violates the law, it is in your right to report them to the appropriate agencies. That said, your employer cannot retaliate or try to get back at you for doing so. If 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, 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, simply exposing unethical or dangerous behavior is typically insufficient to deter firms from engaging in such conduct; instead, 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 private individual whistleblower acts in the place of the government agency, asserting claims against the defendant-business that the agency could maintain itself and recovering compensation on the agency's behalf. A successful qui tam lawsuit will allow the private individual 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 engages in acts that are illegal under state or federal law.

Whistleblowers are employees who 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. This means that 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, the state of 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. 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 unfavorable or adverse employment action taken by an employer against a whistleblower is illegal retaliation in California. These actions can be seen in a number of ways, including:

  • Dismissal of employees

  • An employee's demotion

  • Employee blacklisting (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 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.

Workplace Retaliation: How to Prove It

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 a number of 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 act, 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 be a sign 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 a protected conduct and then started 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. It is considered discrimination or retaliation when your company, HR, or management makes employment decisions based on your protected activity.

  • You'd also be able to 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.

  • 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 type of 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 an Los Angeles Employment Lawyer to help you arrange your thoughts, 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. Depending on the type of claim you're filing, the procedure will differ.

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. Employees cannot suffer reprisal under state whistleblower laws if they refuse to participate in illegal actions or disclose that their employer violates state or federal law. Furthermore, employers are unable to 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.

  • Within one year, you must submit a workers' compensation complaint 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 act that is illegal and involves the state government. It could involve gross misbehavior, inefficiency, ineptitude, or mismanagement of economic waste. It could also be in violation of 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 Complaint In California

When you're 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 trivial than it actually 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. When you supply ambiguous information, it isn't easy to conduct an investigation. The State Auditor of California will require specifics concerning the illegal government activities. The agency will want to know what happened, who was involved, and what proof you have. Therefore, it is preferable if you can 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 in order to obtain additional information.

  • Offer assistance. There must be proof that the behavior occurred and that what you're asserting is correc