California employee rights: Whistleblowers and retaliation protections

Workers who blow the whistle on violations in the workplace are protected from their employers retaliating or taking otherwise adverse actions against them.

Employers in California and elsewhere are expected to comply and act in accordance with the laws, rules and regulations that apply to their businesses and workers. Despite laws and oversight, violations may still occur. Unfortunately, many employees do not speak up and report noncompliance for fear of the potential fallout. To help protect themselves, it is important for workers to understand the whistleblower protections afforded to California employees.

What is a whistleblower?

Workers who report federal and state regulation violations, or other types of noncompliance, are referred to as whistleblowers. This includes those who disclose wrongdoing to their direct superiors or others in positions of authority, employees with the ability to conduct investigations, law enforcement or government agencies. The term whistleblower may also be used to describe those employees who refuse to participate in activities that would violate the law or otherwise result in some form of noncompliance with the applicable rules and regulations.

What protections are whistleblowers afforded?

In addition to allowing for the reporting of employer noncompliance and workplace violations, the law also protects workers who make such complaints from retaliation. As such, their employers cannot take negative actions against them because they refuse to participate in violating activities or have filed a compliant. This includes demoting or reducing pay, limiting hours, suspending, firing or otherwise disciplining. Further, employers are prohibited from making rules or policies that would keep workers from reporting improper, unsafe or illegal activities in the workplace.

What are the remedies for retaliation?

Should their employers retaliate against them, workers may choose to file a complaint with the California Labor Commission. With few exceptions, such complaints must be made within six months of the alleged violation. The Bureau of Field Enforcement reviews their report and, if it is deemed necessary, an investigation may be initiated.

Among other penalties, employers may be ordered to take steps to ensure compliance moving forward. Employees who suffer retaliation may be entitled to have their employment and work benefits reinstated. Additionally, the court may order their employers to pay them any lost wages they have suffered as a result of the violations and retaliation. In some cases, employers may also be ordered to pay the wronged workers up to $10,000 for each violation.

Working with a lawyer

Filing a complaint and going up against their employers may seem an intimidating prospect for California workers. Therefore, employees who have been retaliated against, as well as those intending to report violations, may find it helpful to obtain legal representation. A lawyer may guide workers through the complaint process, and help ensure their rights are upheld.