Employees who protest or report illegal conduct in their workplace are known as “whistleblowers.” It is the public policy of California to protect employees from being retaliated against by their employers for disclosing information that the employee has reason to believe involves a violation of a state or federal statute or law or for refusing to participate in an activity that would violate a state, federal, or local rule or regulation.
California Labor Code section 1102.5, also known as the Whistleblower Protection Act, reflects the state’s broad public policy interest in encouraging workplace whistleblowers to report unlawful acts without fear of retaliation by their employer. Section 1102.5 (a) provides that employers are not allowed to prevent employees from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency, a supervisor, or any other employee who has the authority to investigate the claim. To be protected, an employee must reasonably believe that he or she is disclosing a violation of local, state, or federal law. Further, Sections 1102.5(b)-(d) provide that an employer shall not retaliate against an employee for disclosing information to any government of law enforcement agency, a supervisor, or any other employee who has the authority to investigate the claim and for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation of or noncompliance with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation.
If any employer engages in the dismissal, discrimination, retaliation, or any other adverse treatment of an employee because they reported illegal conduct in the workplace, the employer could be found liable for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act. If a violation is found, an employee can be entitled to reinstatement and compensation for lost wages and work benefits resulting from the employer’s actions.
Notably, effective Jan. 1, 2024, California law now creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if an employee is disciplined or discharged within 90 days of engaging in a protected activity. The burden then rests on the employer to overcome that presumption (rather than the burden remaining on the employee to establish retaliation). It also stipulates that, beyond existing remedies, an employer faces a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per employee per violation, which is awarded to the employee who suffered retaliation.
If you believe that you have been the victim of whistleblower retaliation or any other adverse treatment in the workplace, please feel free to contact our office for a free consultation with an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your options.