Workers in all employment sectors are protected from retaliation by their employers when they report a violation of the law or report violations of health and safety standards. The two main statutes that protect California employees for engaging in whistleblowing activities are California Labor code sections 1102.5 and 6310, which are intended to hold companies accountable when they punish their employees for standing up for what’s right. You are protected by California’s whistleblower protection laws when you have a sincerely held belief that your employer is breaking the law and you report it, even if no specific law was in fact violated. Further, even if you have not reported any illegal activity, you are protected under California law if your employer retaliates against you because they “fear” you may report their activity in the future. As an experienced California employment law attorney Joshua Cohen Slatkin welcomes your whistleblower retaliation and wrongful termination claims and will fight to get you the damages you deserve for the injustice you have suffered.
Understanding California Whistleblower Protections
A whistleblower is an employee or contractor who alerts authorities about illegal, unethical, or prohibited activities happening at their workplace. It is against both federal and state law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who takes such action. However, it is the responsibility of the employee to prove that an employer engaged in retaliation. The employee will have to show the following:
The employee must show (1) he or she engaged in a protected activity, (2) the employer subjected the employee to an adverse employment action (e.g., termination, demotion, suspension), and (3) a causal link existed between the protected activity and the [employer's] actions. Employees often prove retaliation when the following occurs:
- The employer’s activities were reported to an authority. This could be the human resources department of their own company, a manager or executive within the company, or an outside entity, such as law enforcement or a regulatory agency. The employee is protected from California’s whistleblower protection laws by reporting what they consider illegal activity internally within their organization. An employee is protected even when the activity is not reported to an outside government agency, like the policy or California’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency (Cal OSHA).
- The employee experienced an adverse employment action. This often means being terminated. However, being passed over for promotion, assigned to an undesirable position, demoted, or bullied and harassed are also common adverse actions.
- A causal link can be established between the whistleblowing and the adverse action. An employer will not list whistleblowing as the reason for termination, so this is often proved by the timing of the adverse employment action. If an employee is fired soon after reporting a violation, that could be sufficient to prove a causal link.
No matter how ethical the employee’s efforts to stop illegal activity or protect consumers or co-workers might be, they could find themselves being punished for doing the right thing. It is unlikely they will find help within the company, and outside authorities will be focused on prosecuting the company, not protecting the whistleblower. It is up to the employee to protect their rights by hiring a lawyer to represent them.
California Workplace Health and Safety Protections
Under California labor code section 6310, it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee for complaining about health and safety issues or violations in the workplace. While whistleblower protections apply to employees who report their employers for violating the law under California labor code section 1102.5, additional protections apply to employees who take measures to protect themselves and their co-workers from unsafe health and safety conditions under labor code section 6310. It is well-settled law in California that an employer may not retaliate against an employee who has opposed any practices forbidden under the law or what they perceive to be against the law, even if there is no legal violation and/or because the person has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under the law. Under the California Labor Code, it is illegal to retaliate against an employee for taking any of the following actions:
- Being a witness in an administrative or legal proceeding relating to your employer
- Filing a complaint about a health or safety concern
- Testifying about a health or safety violation
- Participating in an occupational health and safety committee
- Reporting a work-related fatality, injury, or illness
- Filing a workers compensation case for a work related-injury
- Refusing to work in unsafe conditions
If an employee can show that they took one of the above actions and that, as a result, they were terminated, demoted, docked pay, transferred against their wishes, or punished in some other way, they have cause for a retaliation lawsuit.
Damages Available in Retaliation Lawsuits
Whether your employer retaliated against you for whistleblowing or for refusing to tolerate unsafe working conditions, the law allows for damages, including the following:
- Lost wages
- Future lost wages
- Past and future loss of benefits
- Emotional distress
- Attorney’s fees
- Court costs
- Punitive damages in certain circumstances
In California, punitive damages against employers who have retaliated against employees can be significant. Damages in whistleblower retaliation and wrongful termination cases in California can total millions of dollars. Find out what your case could be worth by talking to us.
We Will Help You Understand Your Rights and Options
At JCS Law Firm, we know federal and state employment laws. If you feel that you suffered an adverse action because you reported a violation, we will analyze your case to determine if you have a potential claim against your employer.
To learn more about your rights as a California employee, Your Employment Law Guide: 10 Things You Should Know About an Employment Law Case.
Call our office today at 1-310-923-7839, or complete our contact form to schedule your free initial consultation.