An Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former manager at a Los Angeles-area Wells Fargo has ended with an order by the Department of Justice (DOJ) requiring the bank to rehire the former employee, clear his personnel file, and pay $5.4 million in back pay and legal fees. According to several news agencies, the recent order is an addition to the list of bad press Wells Fargo has received in recent months. The former Wells Fargo employee was unnamed by OSHA. The bank intends to appeal the finding.

Fired in Retaliation

In 2016, just six months before the whistleblower was fired, an investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found a large-scale scam whereby upwards of 5,000 Wells Fargo employees were found to have opened 1.5 million fraudulent bank accounts and more than half a million fraudulent credit card accounts without knowledge or authorization from bank customers in an effort to meet sales targets. The investigation resulted in the resignation of Wells Fargo’s Chairman and CEO, the termination of four senior managers and the firing of 5,300 bank employees. The OSHA lawsuit and facts regarding the whistleblower case are not connected with the 2016 scandal.

According to the Los Angeles Times, federal officials claim the former manager was fired in retaliation when he reported potential fraud by employees to his superiors as well as a bank ethics hotline. The bank denies these claims. The two employees under the whistleblower’s supervision were allegedly engaged in bank, mail, and wire fraud. California’s OSHA noted that he had received positive job performance reviews prior to his termination. The agency found that the former manager’s revelations of potential fraud were, at least in part, a contributing factor to his abrupt termination. The former employee has been out of work since, and the multi-million dollar award includes earnings lost during this time.

Whistleblower Protection Act

Like many other states, California follows the at-will employment doctrine, which means that most employees may be fired at any time for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever. Notably, California has a general whistleblower protection statute that shields employees who disclose illegal activity or refuse to participate in illegal activity. Other state law contains anti-retaliation provisions for employees who engage in protected activities as well as those who file a complaint regarding employee rights with the Labor Commissioner.

Beyond state protections, federal law provides employees with additional protections. A private employment contract or collective bargaining agreement through a union may provide additional protections from retaliation by an employer.

California employees are protected from retaliatory discharge for discussing wages, disclosing antitrust violations, refusing to sign some non-compete agreements, exercising leave rights under FMLA, reporting overtime wage law violations, among other employment law rights.

Understand the Law

Have an attorney review a termination before going through with it. California employers are subject to local, state, and federal employment laws regarding their businesses. For these reasons, it is important to have a knowledgeable employment law attorney by your side to ensure compliance and guidance through difficult times. Garcia & Gurney, ALC has experience assisting enterprises in the Bay Area and beyond, with complex issues relating to employment law. Call (925) 468-0400 today to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.


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