What California Employees Need to Know About the Whistleblower Protection Act
California is an at-will state when it comes to employment. That means that an employee can be fired at any time without cause. However, there are some exceptions to at-will employment. One main exception is that employers cannot fire a person for reasons that violate public policy.
For example, an employee may file a complaint against an employer who forces employees to work in dangerous conditions or engages in activities that are against state or federal law.
Employees who file these types of claims are called whistleblowers because they “blow the whistle” on bad behavior. Understandably, employers may not think favorably of employees who disclose negative information about them to a government or law enforcement agency. However, the California Whistleblower Protection Act protects these employees.
Under this Act, employers cannot retaliate against employees who exercise their rights in this regard. This means that employers cannot punish employees for doing what is ethical and reporting illegal behavior. Retaliation can occur in many ways. It may include firing, demoting, disciplining, denying overtime or promotion, reducing pay or hours, reassigning work, stripping one’s benefits, failing to hire or rehire, intimidating, harassing, threatening and blacklisting.
In fact, the State of California encourages employees to notify authorities when they have information about their employer violating state or federal laws or local regulations. Under California Labor Code Section 1102.5, the California Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees. An employee is any person employed by a private or public employer. This includes individuals employed by the city, county or state, municipal or public corporation, political subdivision, a school district, community college district or the University of California.
Filing a Whistleblower Claim—Public Employees
State employees and members of the public who wish to file a whistleblower claim can send them to the California State Auditor. The California State Auditor receives claims for “improper governmental activity.” This is defined as an action that violates the law and relates to the State government. The action could involve gross misconduct, inefficiency, incompetence or economic waste. It may also violate a Rule of Court, Executive Order of the Governor, State Contracting Manual or State Administrative Manual.
Complaints that you send to the California State Auditor are confidential. Your identity, however, will be revealed to law enforcement agencies who need to investigate your case. Once the California State Auditor receives your complaint, they will investigate your claim. The agency will determine if the employer did, in fact, engage in improper governmental activity.
If improper governmental activity occurred, the California State Auditor will issue a report. Otherwise, the results of the investigation will remain confidential. State employees who file a complaint are protected against retaliation from their employers.
Tips for Filing a Complaint
- Include as many details as possible. It’s hard to conduct an investigation if you provide vague information. The California State Auditor will need specifics about the improper governmental activity. The agency will need to know what activity took place, when it took place, who was involved and what evidence you have. The more information you can provide, the better.
- Clearly identify the person involved. The California State Auditor cannot investigate your claim if you do not provide the name of the person and the place where he or she works. The agency will interview this person to gather more information.
- Provide support. There needs to be evidence that the activity took place and what you’re claiming is true. You cannot file a claim without some documentation or contact information of witnesses who can back up your claims. If you do submit documents, provide copies only.
There are several ways to file a whistleblower claim. You can submit the claim via telephone, mail or fax. While there is no option to email a claim, you can fill out a form online. To learn more about claim submission options, click here.
Filing a Whistleblower Claim—Private Employees
If you are a private employee, there are several ways in which you can file a lawsuit. The process will vary depending on the type of claim you are filing.
If you are filing a lawsuit for wrongful discharge or general whistleblower protection, you have two years to do so. You can file the claim in the appropriate court, but it’s recommended that you hire a lawyer to help. Under State whistleblower laws, employees cannot face retaliation for refusing to participate in illegal activities or disclosing that the employer is engaging in activities that violate state or federal law. Additionally, employers cannot create policies that would prohibit employees from disclosing such information.
Whistleblower policies apply to future employment as well. You cannot face retaliation from present or future employers for exercising your rights.
You should file workers’ compensation complaints with the California Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) within one year.
You cannot face retaliation for participating in a health and safety committee or refusing to work in a hazardous situation. File claims related to occupational safety and health to California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). You can make the claim orally or in writing.
It is recommended that you contact DLSE immediately, although you have six months to file the claim. You can also file the claim with any other organization that handles workplace safety matters. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is one example.
Are You a Victim of Workplace Retaliation? Seek Legal Help
Under the California Whistleblower Protection Act, employees cannot face adverse action for refusing to participate in activities that break state or federal laws. If you do face retaliation for being a whistleblower, it’s important that you seek legal help.
The Los Angeles employment law attorneys at Workplace Rights Law Group LLP can help you expose employer misconduct while protecting your legal rights. Our lawyers have decades of experience helping those who wish to file whistleblower claims. Contact us today to schedule a free case review by calling (818) 844-5200.