California law makes it illegal to retaliate against an employee for blowing the whistle on an employer. Your employer may not fire, demote, or take any other adverse action against you because you reported information that you reasonably believed was a violation of the law. If your employer took an adverse action because you blew the whistle, you may be entitled to damages. Our experienced employment law attorneys at Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP can explain what you can do to enforce your rights.
Employees are often the first—or only—witnesses when their employers break the law, and we rely on employee whistleblowers to report these violations. California lawmakers have enacted various whistleblower protection laws to encourage employees to report illegal activity without fear of retaliation.
The California Supreme Court, the highest court in this state, recently examined the state law statute Labor Code section 1102.5 to clarify what an employee needs to show to prove whistleblower retaliation under that law. Section 1102.5 protects all employee whistleblowers in California, regardless of the size of their employers. Specifically, it prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against an employee for reporting information that the employee has reasonable cause to believe discloses a violation of a local, state, or federal law:
- To a government or law enforcement agency (such as the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission);
- To a person with authority over the employee (such as the employee’s supervisor);
- To another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation of the law (such as a human resources employee); or
- While providing information to or testifying before any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry (such as testifying in a deposition or other court proceeding).
An employer is also prohibited from retaliating against an employee for refusing to violate the law. For example, an employer may not fire an employee for refusing an order from a supervisor to unlawfully submit false tax documents to the government.
An employee can win a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit under Labor Code section 1102.5 even if the employee’s whistleblowing was not the employer’s only reason for taking the adverse action. In the case Wallen Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc., the California Supreme Court clarified earlier this year that an employee need only prove that it is more likely than not (i.e., by a “preponderance of the evidence”) that the whistleblowing was one “contributing factor” to the employer’s decision. If an employee proves this, the employer must then meet a higher standard to avoid liability by proving that there is a high probability (i.e., by “clear and convincing evidence”) that the employer would have taken the adverse action even if the employee had not been a whistleblower.
An employee who wins a lawsuit under Labor Code section 1102.5 may be awarded monetary compensation for lost wages and benefits, for the emotional distress suffered as a result of the employer’s retaliation, as punishment to the employer, and to cover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. Employees may also be reinstated to their job if they have been fired, demoted, or otherwise removed from their position.
Labor Code section 1102.5 is not the only law protecting employee whistleblowers in California. Other state laws include the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 12900, et seq.), the California Whistleblower Protection Act (Gov’t Code §§ 8547, et seq.), and the California Equal Pay Act (Labor Code § 1197.5).
The lawyers at Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP are here to help if you have been the victim of whistleblower retaliation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation!