We’d all like to believe that when someone steps up to protect the health, safety, and financial interests of others, he or she would be rewarded. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. When an employee discovers that a company or governmental entity is breaking the law or putting people in danger, the employer has a lot on the line.

Exposing the issue could mean job loss for managers, fines for the company or executives, bad publicity, loss of status, and even criminal charges. So, it’s no surprise that many employers discourage whistleblowers. Some employees keep quiet simply because they fear losing their jobs or other punishment for speaking up. In other cases, the intimidation is more direct, and employees are actively deterred from reporting violations.

Fortunately, both the federal government and the state of California recognize the important role whistleblowers play, and have created extensive legal protections for those who have the courage to come forward.

Who Do Whistleblower Laws Protect? 

A great many state and federal statutes include protections for whistleblowers. The specifics and the employees covered vary a bit from statute to statute. Generally, though, whistleblower laws protect employees and certain others who report legal and safety violations from retaliation. 

Retaliation” generally includes actions like terminating or demoting the employee, passing the whistleblower over for promotions, making unfavorable work assignments, or otherwise disadvantaging the reporting employee in the workplace. 

Whistleblower Laws Protecting California Workers

If you’ve faced retaliation after you reported illegal or unsafe activity or conditions in the workplace, or if you are considering making a report and unsure of your rights, an experienced California employment attorney is your best source of information. Whistleblower protections can be complex, and vary somewhat from industry to industry, so it can be difficult to assess which protections and remedies apply in your specific situation.

Whitehead Employment Law focuses entirely on protecting the rights of California workers. We have secured millions of dollars in compensation for employees around the state, and have an in-depth understanding of the important role whistleblowers play and the challenges these courageous workers face. 

The most extensive whistleblower protection for California workers is contained in the California Labor Code. Unlike many whistleblower laws, this one has broad application to California employees who report violations of state or federal law or non-compliance with local, state, or federal regulations to their superiors or certain governmental agencies. This statute also protects those who cooperate with or testify in an investigation, hearing or inquiry conducted by a public body.

There are also many state and federal statutes protecting workers in specific industries against retaliation for certain types of reporting. Some of these include:

  • Protection for employees or contractors of the federal government who disclose evidence of violations of the law or certain types of mismanagement and abuse of power, 
  • Protection for employees of the state of California who make protected disclosures, 
  • Protection for healthcare workers in the state of California who file complaints or grievances relating to issues such as quality of care, 
  • Protection for California employees making or otherwise pursuing or cooperating with complaints involving health and safety issues, and
  • Protection for employees of publicly traded companies who report certain violations of federal financial regulations.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so if you’re facing retaliation for reporting of illegal activity or unsafe conditions and don’t see a statute that seems to apply, check with an attorney.

Remedies for Whistleblowers Facing Retaliation

Just as whistleblower statutes vary somewhat in the workers they protect and the types or reporting that are protected, remedies differ from statute to statute. The most common remedies available include reinstatement and backpay. Most whistleblower laws also provide for attorney fees and other costs of litigation. Those provisions make it easier for a worker facing retaliation to assert his or her rights by retaining an attorney and possibly filing a lawsuit without having to pay legal fees in advance. 

Some statutes allow for additional compensation for affected workers, including:

  • Double back pay
  • Interest on back pay
  • Benefits
  • Civil penalties

Some even include general language empowering the court to grant whatever relief is necessary to restore the employee to the position he or she would have been in without the retaliatory action. In the worst cases, punitive damages, or damages meant to punish, may even be available.

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