California Whistleblower Attorney

As an employee, you have important rights that protect you against your employer’s retaliation – in response to you blowing the whistle on fraudulent or otherwise illegal practices.

If you discover or witness your employer engaging in activity that does not comport with the laws that bind employers, building up the courage to report the matter to the authorities can be especially difficult. Not only do you have a sense of loyalty to your employer, but you also rely upon your job to support yourself and your family. In other words, becoming a whistleblower can put you in a serious bind. The truth is, however, that there are whistleblower laws in place at both the state and federal levels that are intended to protect employees (who do the right thing by coming forward) against employer retaliation. If you have concerns about your rights as an employee who has called your employer out on suspect activities, you shouldn’t wait to reach out and contact an experienced California whistleblower attorney.

Whistleblowing Defined

California affords broad protections to employees, which includes everyone who works for either a private or public employer. The state defines whistleblowers as those employees who disclose information regarding any kind of employer violation to any of the following sources:

  • A government or law enforcement agency
  • A person in a position of authority over the employee
  • Another employee who has the authority to investigate, uncover, or correct the noncompliance or violation

Testifying or providing information before a public body that is conducting an inquiry, investigation, or hearing also qualifies as whistleblowing. The kind of information that rises to the level of whistleblowing includes:

  • Information about an employer’s violation of a federal or state statute
  • Information about an employer’s violation of or noncompliance with a federal, state, or local rule or regulation
  • Information about an employer’s failure to protect employee health and safety or to ensure safe working conditions and work practices in the workplace (to the standard required by law)

An employee who refuses to participate in a work activity that is in violation of relevant statutes can also avail themselves of whistleblower rights.

Whistleblower Rights

California affords broad protections to employees, which includes everyone who works for either a private or public employer. The state defines whistleblowers as those employees who disclose information regarding any kind of employer violation to any of the following sources:

  • A government or law enforcement agency
  • A person in a position of authority over the employee
  • Another employee who has the authority to investigate, uncover, or correct the noncompliance or violation

Testifying or providing information before a public body that is conducting an inquiry, investigation, or hearing also qualifies as whistleblowing. The kind of information that rises to the level of whistleblowing includes:

  • Information about an employer’s violation of a federal or state statute
  • Information about an employer’s violation of or noncompliance with a federal, state, or local rule or regulation
  • Information about an employer’s failure to protect employee health and safety or to ensure safe working conditions and work practices in the workplace (to the standard required by law)

An employee who refuses to participate in a work activity that is in violation of relevant statutes can also avail themselves of whistleblower rights.

Understanding Your Rights

Many employees are uncertain about their rights as they relate to whistleblowing, and it’s important to note that you don’t have to make an official report for the protection to kick in. Even alerting your supervisor – or someone else in the company – is a protected activity. The law recognizes that employees are often put in the difficult position of having to balance all the following in relation to whistleblowing:

  • Protecting their jobs and livelihoods
  • Protecting the health and safety of themselves, others on the job, and the public
  • Alerting the authorities to evidence of violations

Reporting your employer is not easy – especially with the risk involved – but the law has protections in place that help. If you reasonably believe that your employer has engaged or is engaging in some kind of violation, you are protected, regardless of whether or not your employer is ultimately determined to be in violation. The only requirement is your reasonable belief.

Federal Whistleblower Agencies

Federal whistleblower laws are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes five agencies that address whistleblower actions, including:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
  • Wage and Hour Division
  • Veterans’ Employment and Training Services

In other words, no matter what kind of work you do – you’re covered.

Issues Commonly Reported

The kinds of violations included in whistleblower protection laws are wide-ranging, but some of the most common include:

  • Minimum wage violations
  • Overtime pay violations
  • Employee safety violations
  • Discrimination of any kind
  • Fraud and financial violations
  • Consumer product and food safety violations
  • Family and medical leave violations
  • Health insurance violations
  • Lie detector testing
  • Youth employment violations
  • Violations related to military status and obligations
  • Transportation service violations

State Employees

Those employees who work for California have even more robust protections that address reporting any of the following:

  • Suspected violations of laws, regulations, or court or executive orders – including corruption, fraud, or bribery
  • Conditions that are suspected of significantly threatening the health or safety of employees or members of the public
  • Governmental activity that is suspected of being economically wasteful or of qualifying as gross misconduct, gross inefficiency, or gross incompetence

If You’re Retaliated Against

If your employer retaliates against you for current whistleblowing, past whistleblowing, for perceived whistleblowing, or for a family member’s whistleblowing, you can seek compensation for your losses (or legal damages) in all the following categories:

  • The wages and benefits you would have earned had you not been retaliated against
  • Any losses related to career opportunities and advancement
  • Your physical and emotional pain and suffering

In especially egregious cases, punitive damages that are intended to punish your employer (rather than to compensate you), attorney fee reimbursement, or both may be available.

Related Laws

There are several additional and related California whistleblower laws that are important to consider.

Public Policy Wrongful Termination Protections

Public policy wrongful termination protections are related to whistleblowing retaliation protections but are more focused. Most employees in California are engaged in what is known as at-will employment, meaning that employees can quit for any reason or can be fired for any reason – as long as the termination isn’t discriminatory or otherwise illegal. At-will employees cannot be fired for reasons that are determined to be in violation of a fundamental public policy, meaning you cannot be terminated for any of the following:

  • Refusing to violate a law on the job
  • Performing a legal obligation, such as jury duty
  • Exercising a legal privilege or right
  • Reporting a suspected violation of a law of public importance on the part of your employer

The last protection overlaps directly with the whistleblower retaliation law, but public policy wrongful termination protections only apply when an employee loses their job. Discrimination or retaliation on the job will not suffice.

Qui Tam Whistleblower Retaliation

The qui tam section of the California False Claims Act affords California employees the right to sue their employers for engaging in fraud or embezzlement in relation to government funds. If the employer, in turn, retaliates against the qui tam action, the affected employee has the legal right to sue for qui tam whistleblower retaliation.

Sardines-Oxley Whistleblower Laws

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was created to protect investments from the fraudulent accounting of public companies. The Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower protections afford employees of companies that are publicly traded the legal right to sue their employers for whistleblower retaliation if the whistleblowing itself involves reporting suspected securities fraud to either a supervisor or the federal government.

FEHA Whistleblower Retaliation

California’s primary law prohibiting workplace harassment is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This law builds in protections for employees who are retaliated against for reporting violations related to harassment. Lawsuits that are brought under FEHA are similar to those brought under other whistleblower protections.

FAQ

If you have a concern related to whistleblowing retaliation, you very likely also have questions, and the answers to some of the following frequently asked questions may help.

Do I need a whistleblower attorney?

There is, of course, no requirement that you hire a whistleblower attorney, but doing so can significantly improve your chances of prevailing with just compensation that covers your complete losses. Whistleblower retaliation cases are complicated but important, and working closely with a trusted California whistleblower attorney is well-advised.

What should I do if I can’t afford a whistleblower lawyer?

Many employees who’ve been retaliated against for whistleblowing face considerable financial hardships that make the idea of hiring a lawyer seem completely out of reach. Most reputable whistleblower lawyers, however, work on contingency, which means that they don’t get paid unless their clients’ cases prevail with either settlements or court awards – in which case they receive a pre-arranged percentage. There is no financial risk to you, and you can afford to work closely with an accomplished whistleblower lawyer.

What are my filing options?

If you’ve been fired or have otherwise been retaliated against by your employer in response to an act of whistleblowing, the strongest action you can take is filing your whistleblower retaliation lawsuit in a California Superior Court. There is, however, another option, which is filing an administrative complaint with a state agency – either prior to or in addition to – filing your whistleblower retaliation lawsuit.

If you are a state employee, the process is somewhat different. Before you can file a lawsuit against the state agency that is your employer, you will have to file an official complaint with the California State Personnel Board.

How long do I have to file?

The time constraint – or statute of limitations – for filing your whistleblower retaliation lawsuit in California is generally three years from the date of the retaliation. This time limitation varies, however, depending upon the circumstances. Consider the following:

  • For a whistleblower retaliation case involving labor law violations or occupational health and safety complaints, you have only six months to file your complaint with the California labor commissioner – or three years to file your lawsuit.
  • If you are an employee of the state government, you have only 12 months to file your complaint with the state personnel board.

What losses can I be compensated for?

If you’ve been retaliated against for a whistleblowing action, you can seek compensation for your related losses, including all the following:

  • The back wages that you reasonably would have expected to earn on the job and the value of any job-related benefits that you would have expected to receive – minus any wages and benefits that you did receive (or could have earned from employment that was substantially similar)
  • The pain and suffering you experienced in response to your employer’s retaliation, which can include psychological suffering, anxiety, loss of pleasure taken in life, grief, and humiliation
  • Punitive damages intended to punish your employer for especially egregious behavior that is determined to reach the level of fraud, oppression, or malice

Obtaining the compensation to which you are entitled is the surest way to protect your legal rights and support your ability to move beyond your employer’s retaliation successfully.

Turn to an Experienced California Whistleblower Attorney for the Legal Guidance You Need

Moving forward with a whistleblower action requires considerable courage and integrity, and being retaliated against by your employer can put you in an especially difficult position. The savvy whistleblower lawyers at Blair & Ramirez LLP – proudly serving Los Angeles, Irvine, Bakersfield, and the surrounding areas – understand the serious nature of your case and are well prepared and well-positioned to help. Your case is important, and we offer a free case evaluator to help you better understand your rights – and what your rightful compensation is likely to be. We’re on your side, so please don’t wait to contact us more information today.