California Law Protects Employees Who Report Illegal Activity
9/12/2016 by Joseph M. Hekmat
California state law protects whistleblowers from adverse employment actions if a California employee exercises his or her right under California law to blow the whistle on illegal behavior. In addition to other laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the False Claims Act and the California Whistleblower Protection Act, the California Labor Code itself provides significant protections to employees from relation in the workplace.
However, what actually constitutes behavior that is protected under California state whistleblower laws is an often-misunderstood topic. Because these laws are so easily and often misunderstood, and in order to assist California employees in understanding their rights under California’s whistleblower protection laws, the Hekmat Law Group provides the following information to California employees regarding their rights.
Behavior Protected Under California Labor Code Section 1102.5
California Labor Code section 1102.5 offers protection from retaliation for anyone who discloses certain information to (i) a government or law enforcement agency; (ii) a person with authority over the whistleblower; (iii) another employee with authority to investigate, discover or correct a violation or noncompliance with the law; or (iv) if the whistleblower gives testimony before any public body conducting an investigation, hearing or inquiry. A report to any of these four sources constitutes a protected whistleblowing activity if the employee has reasonable cause to believe that he or she is reporting a violation of a state or federal statute or a local, state or federal rule or regulation.
An often-misunderstood issue, however, are the specific behaviors that are protected under Section 1102.5. In order for whistleblowing activity to be protected, it must involve a violation of a statute, rule or regulation. If the employee’s complaint is merely about internal policy decisions or personnel decisions, it may not be actionable. For example, complaining to the police that your supervisor is embezzling money from the company would be an example of a protected behavior and if you do so and are terminated by your employer specifically for making that complaint, your employer would have committed a violation of California state law. However, complaining to the HR Department because you feel that your supervisor is using his department’s funds in an unwise manner by purchasing the most expensive office supplies possible instead of a cheaper alternative would not be behavior that would constitute whistleblowing unless you had reasonable cause to believe that your supervisor’s actions were violating a statute, rule or regulation. Thus, your supervisor and/or employer would be unable to fire or demote you for making the first complaint, but would be able to do so for making the second complaint if you, the whistleblower, did not have reasonable cause to believe that your supervisor’s actions were violating any statute, rule or regulation. However, if you did subjectively believe that your supervisor was violating the law by his actions, and you had reasonable cause to hold that belief, then your complaint to HR regarding his use of company funds to purchase the most expensive office furniture possible would be protected whistleblowing activity under Section 1102.5.
Successful plaintiffs may recover compensatory damages, including economic and emotional distress damages, and may also be entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs
Contact Hekmat Law Group if You Are a California Employee Who Has Been Retaliated Against for Speaking-Up
The lawyers of the Hekmat Law Group have experience representing California employees who have been victims of retaliation for whistleblowing activities protected under Section 1102.5 of the California Labor Code. If you have blown the whistle and have been subjected to retaliation, a demotion or fired as a result of doing so, please contact the experienced and aggressive attorneys of the Hekmat Law Group at 424-888-4LAW to discuss your potential legal options today.