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.
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.