What to Know

Whistleblower Rights and Protections

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Whistleblower Rights and Protections Under California Labor Code Section 1102.5

If you report violations of state or federal law and your employer retaliates against you for doing so, call 888-762-0297 to discuss your case.

We do not charge for initial consultations, and we can help clients all throughout California.

What are Whistleblower Protections Laws?

These laws protect an employee who discloses information about a state or federal law violation. Whistleblower laws also protect an employee from employer retaliation after providing testimony or information to public bodies investigating a reported violation.

California law protects an employee that “reasonably believes” an employer is acting in violation of a law or regulation and reports that violation. California Labor Code Section 1102.5 makes it illegal for the employer to retaliate against the reporting or “whistleblowing” employee.

If an employee reported violations of a previous employer or if the employee’s family members served as whistleblowers, the law protects the employee from retaliation by the current employer.

Who Is Considered a Whistleblower?

Whistleblowers are employees who

  • Report information about their employers’ violation or noncompliance with a state or federal statute or local, state, or federal rule or regulation.
  • Disclose information about an unsafe working environment or practices contributing to an unsafe or unhealthy environment.
  • Refuse to take part in activities violating or promoting noncompliance with state or federal statutes or local, state, or federal rules and regulations.

Examples of Whistleblowers Cases

Whistleblower cases span a range of violations and can affect entities such as small local businesses, school or hospital systems, or government agencies.

Among other violations, whistleblowers have reported:

  • Illegal wage or work-hours practices.
  • Discriminatory behavior or harassment.
  • Attempts to defraud investors, the government, or other entities.

Who Is Protected by Whistleblower Laws?

Employees who have “reasonable cause” to believe their employer is acting illegally are protected by whistleblower laws. If a reported employer is ultimately cleared of wrongdoing, the reporter – or whistleblower, is still protected if there was reasonable cause to believe the illegal activity was occurring. The activity reported does not need to be related to the employment duties of the employee.

Labor Code Section 1102.5 also protects employees who have not made a report but whose employers retaliated against them under the false belief that the employer had or was going to report a violation.

What Protections Do Whistleblowers Have?

California Law makes it illegal for employers to:

  • “Make, adopt, or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy” that would prevent an employee from whistleblowing.
  • Retaliate against employee whistleblowers.
  • Retaliate against employees who will not participate in practices or activities that would violate or put them in noncompliance with laws and regulations.
  • Retaliate against current employees who “blew the whistle” on prior employers.

How Do I Make a Disclosure?

California’s Department of Justice has a whistleblower hotline for employees to report employer violations of or noncompliance with California laws. The attorney general will direct the complaint to the appropriate government agency.

What Disclosures Are Protected?

Under LC Section 1102.5, the following disclosures against employers or persons acting on the employer’s behalf are protected, so long as the reporting employee reasonably believed a violation of a statute or regulation has occurred:

  • To a government or law enforcement agency.
  • To persons with authority over the reporting employee.
  • To another employee with the purview to investigate or correct the disclosed violation.
  • Testimony before public bodies carrying out investigations or hearings of the disclosed violation.

What Disclosures Are Excluded?

To be protected, the whistleblowing disclosure must report a violation of a law, statute, or government regulation. Complaints about internal policies or personnel that do not violate laws or rules, for example, are not protected.

Section 1102.5 is not applicable to “rules, regulations, or policies that implement, or to actions by employers against employees who violate”:

  • Lawyer-client confidentiality.
  • Doctor-patient privilege, or
  • Trade secret information.

Can I Be Fired?

Your employer may fire you for whistleblowing, but that firing is illegal and is a retaliatory act of wrongful termination.

What Counts as Retaliation?

Workplace retaliation is any action an employer takes to punish an employee who has voiced a complaint, reported, or provided information in an investigation of the employer’s alleged illegal activity and is intended to damage the employee’s career.

Examples of Acts of Retaliation

The most extreme acts of retaliation can cost reporting or cooperating employees their jobs.

  • Wrongful termination: the employee is laid off or fired outright.
  • Wrongful constructive termination: the employer creates intolerable working conditions, ultimately forcing the employee to resign.

Some acts of retaliation are less obvious, such as:

  • Demotion to a less prestigious position.
  • Being “passed over” for a deserved promotion or denied a merited raise.
  • Increased workload.
  • Assignment to less desirable shifts or work hours.
  • Exclusion from communication or meetings.
  • Refused access to professional development or career advancement opportunities.
  • Threats of being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • Denied access to resources required to perform the job.
  • Unwarranted negative performance reviews.

Who Is Considered an Employer?

Labor Code Section 1102.5 uses the term and meaning of “client employers,” established in Code 2810.3, to define employers and those acting on their behalf as follows, “a business entity, regardless of its form, that obtains or is provided workers to perform labor within its usual course of business from a labor contractor.”

For situations with multiple employers, the employer directly responsible for creating or performing the violation fulfills the definition, as per the definition Code 6400 subdivision b.

What Penalties Does an Employer who Retaliates Against a Whistleblower Face?

Employers who violate whistleblower retaliation protection laws risk investigation by the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency or, if the employer is a state government entity, investigation by the State Personnel Board. Violators may also face fines and jail time. Should victims file a civil suit, violators may have to pay compensatory damages.

What Compensation Can I Receive?

Damages received depend, to some degree, on the type of violation initially reported and what entity is holding your employer accountable for retaliating.

For violations of Code 1120.5, you may secure financial compensation:

  • For lost wages and benefits if you have been wrongfully terminated.
  • To acknowledge the pain, physical, emotional, or psychological, you sustained from your employers’ retaliatory acts, as well as the loss of quality of life and reputation.
  • For punitive damages against your employer.

If you are retaliated against for wage, hour, or safety laws complaints and the Labor Commissioner investigates, you may win back your previous position, be reimbursed for lost income and interest, and recoup legal fees.

State employees whose cases are investigated by the State Personnel Board may be reinstated to their positions, receive back pay and financial compensation for damages, and have negative reviews or employment records cleared.

Who Do I have to Report the Whistleblower Retaliation Information to?

To report general whistleblower retaliation covered under Code 1102.5, notify the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Registering a complaint as a state government employee, go to the State Personnel Board. Complaints about wages, hours, and worker safety, can be reported to the Labor Commissioner.

Whatever your circumstances, it is always best to consult with a whistleblower attorney first.

What Do I Need to Prove Retaliation in a Whistleblower Case?

Proving retaliation requires showing the employer was aware of the whistleblowing and that the negative behavior toward the employee was prompted by the disclosure. Claims should be filed promptly. The less time that passes between the employer’s actions and the employee’s complaint tends to make a stronger claim. Documenting a timeline of the employer’s negative actions is also helpful.

How long do I have to make my claims?

Different statutes of limitations are in place for filing whistleblower retaliation claims. There is:

  • A three-year statute of limitations for filing a claim for a violation of general whistleblower protection under Labor Code 1102.5 in California Superior Court.
  • A six-month statute of limitations for filing a labor law or health and safety complaints with the Labor Commissioner and three years to file a lawsuit.
  • A 12-month statute of limitations for state employees filing with the State Personnel Board.
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To ensure you file within the legal deadline, and you collect the necessary evidence to prove your case, secure experienced legal representation from a labor or whistleblower attorney as soon as possible.

For more information

If your employer provides paid vacations but has unreasonable use-it-or-lose-it policies, unfair caps on the number of vacation days you can accrue, or when you can schedule your vacation days, you should reach out to an employment attorney to discuss your case. Contact the Sempers Law Firm at 888-762-0297.

We take cases on a contingency basis, so there are no fees unless we negotiate a settlement or there is a verdict in your favor. We also advance the costs involved, which are only reimbursed after a successful recovery on your behalf.

We can help clients in all of California.

Last updated on November 8, 2021.

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