Whistleblowing in California
What is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is “an employee who discloses information to a government or law enforcement agency where the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses:
1) A violation of a state or federal statute,
2) A violation or noncompliance with a state or federal rule or regulation, or
3) With reference to employee safety or health, unsafe working conditions or work practices in the employee’s employment...”
Who is Protected as a Whistleblower?
According to the California Labor Code Section 1106, all employees are part of the protected class of individuals. This means that any employee, regardless of where he or she falls in the company’s hierarchy, is considered a protected class member.
What Can an Employee Do?
Under the California False Claims Act, a whistleblower can bring a civil action on behalf of the State of California where a wrongdoer commits acts that defraud the state or local governments of taxpayer dollars. The statute casts a wide net so that it can capture a broad spectrum of fraudulent behaviors across industries. If the whistleblower wins the case, he or she is entitled to a portion of the monetary damages that are recovered.
Additionally, under California Labor Code Section 98.6, if an employer retaliates against a whistleblower, the employer may be required to reinstate the employee’s employment and work benefits, pay lost wages, and take other steps necessary to comply with the law.
What Constitutes Retaliation?
The laws protecting whistleblowers are meant to both promote open and free dialogue and to prevent retaliation against the whistleblower. The Whistleblower Protection Act prevents retaliation against whistleblowers in the form of:
- Commands to perform improper activity
- Disciplinary action
- Refusal to hire
- Reassignment to lower-status position or one of lower pay
- Refusal to promote
- Denial of merit increases/raises
- Involuntary transfers to new locations.
How to Report Suspicious Acts
If you have information regarding possible violations of state or federal laws or violations of fiduciary responsibility by a corporation or its employees, call the California State Attorney General’s Whistleblower Hotline at 1‑800-952-5225. The Attorney General will refer your call to the appropriate government authority for review and possible investigation. Alternatively, you can file a complaint with the State Auditor by telephone, mail or online.
Seek Legal Help
Before a person decides to blow the whistle on an employer’s wrongdoings, he or she must first carefully document the behavior. Once a person is certain that violations are taking place, he or she should seek advice from a trusted attorney as to the pros and cons of revealing this information. If you suspect wrongful behavior at your place of work, please contact Garcia & Gurney, ALC for a consultation.