Cailifornia Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower laws in California at the state level

A Summary of California Whistleblower Laws

California follows the employment-at-will doctrine, which means employees can be fired for any reason. However, exceptions to this doctrine apply when the reason for dismissal violates the state’s public policy and statutory protections. Public policy constitutes common law that is derived at the courts through the use of statutes and constitutional provisions that are similar to the case brought by the employee. Statutory protections are enacted by the state’s legislature and cover several specific subject areas such as workers’ compensation and discrimination.

This is a summary of California Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Whistleblower Rights in California

Common-Law Protections

Employers are not allowed to terminate an employee for reasons that violate the state’s public policy. In terms of specifics, employers cannot discharge an employee for exercising a right, refusing to violate a statute or law, carrying out a legal duty, or for reporting a violation of a law that is of public interest. Also, in the past, California courts have considered several activities as protected activities. Examples of these are discussing wages, disclosing violations of overtime wage law, exercising family and medical leave rights, and advocating for the proper medical health care for patients.

Statutory Protections

California Whistleblower Protection Act

The act prohibits employers or any other representative of the employer from retaliating against an employee for:

  • Disclosing a violation of federal and state statutes or any other rule or law to government or law enforcement agency or a person with authority over the employee or to another employee who has authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation.
  • Participating in a proceeding, investigation, inquiry, or hearing conducted by a public body either by testifying or providing information concerning a violation of federal and state statutes or any other rule or law.
  • Refusing to take part in an activity that would violate federal and state statutes or any other rule or law.

To be protected, the employee should also have a reasonable belief that the information discloses a violation of federal and state statutes or any other rule or law. This means that even if it turns out that the employer is not guilty of the violation, the employee will still be protected under the act. Also, the employer is not allowed to adopt or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy that prevents an employee from disclosing violations to the relevant authority. Cal. Lab. Code § 1102.5.

Discrimination

Under this statute, it is considered unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an individual or discharge an employee because of his or her race, religion, sex, medical condition, physical disability, among other things. Also, employers are not allowed to discharge, expel or carry out retaliatory action against an employee for opposing unlawful practices under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act or for filing a complaint, testifying, or participating in a proceeding under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940.

Hazardous Substances

Employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee because the employee has filed a complaint, started a proceeding, testified, or is intending to testify in a proceeding related to California’s Hazardous Substances Information and Training Act. Cal. Lab. Code § 6399.7.

Health Care Facilities

Health facilities are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee because the employee has filed a complaint to an entity or agency responsible for accrediting or evaluating the facility, or because the employee has started a proceeding, testified, or is intending to testify, in a proceeding or investigation related to the facility’s patient care standards and conditions. Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 1278.5, 1432.

Miscellaneous Conduct

An employer is not allowed to coerce or influence his or her employees through the use of threats or any other retaliatory action to control the employee’s political activities. Other activities that are protected under the labor code include filing a complaint under employee’s rights that are under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner and also engaging in lawful conduct during off duty hours away from the employer’s premises. Cal. Lab. Code §1101.

Occupational Safety and Health

Under this statute, employers are not allowed to discharge or discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Making an oral or written complaint to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health or any other relevant authority.
  • Participating in an occupational health and safety committee.
  • Refusing to work in conditions which violate the state’s occupational safety and health standards.
  • Instituting a proceeding or testifying or planning to testify on behalf of himself or others in a proceeding related to the state’s occupational safety and health laws.

Cal. Lab. Code §§ 6310, 6311.

Workers’ Compensation

It is against the law for employers to discharge or in any way retaliate against an employee because the employee has filed or is intending to file a workers’ compensation claim. Also, employers are not allowed to discharge or discriminate against an employee for testifying or intending to testify in another employee’s case before the appeals board. Cal. Lab. Code § 132.

Whistleblower Hotlines in California

To file a complaint under the discrimination statute, call the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) at 1-800-884-1684.

To file a complaint under the miscellaneous and Occupational Safety and Health statutes, call the Labor Commissioner’s Office at 916-263-1811.

To file a complaint under the workers’ compensation statute, call the California Division of Workers’ Compensation at 1-800-736-7401.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in California

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, whistleblowers are required to file a lawsuit within 2 years of the retaliation.

Discrimination

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within 1 year of the retaliatory action.

Occupational Safety and Health

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within 6 months of the retaliation. Also, note that the time deadline can be extended in case of special situations.

Workers’ Compensation

Employees can file a complaint with the California Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) within 1 year of the retaliation.

Retaliation and Violation Penalties in California

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, California courts can order an employer who’s been found guilty of unlawful retaliatory action to pay the employee wages for the period the employee is without work, work benefits, legal costs, or reinstate the employee to previous job position plus any other remedy that the court deems appropriate.

Health Care Facilities

Employers who violate this statute may be slapped with a civil penalty of not more than $25,000. In the case of a willful violation, an employer may be liable to pay a fine of not more than $75,000 in addition to the fine mentioned above.

Workers’ Compensation

Employers who violate this statute may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and be liable to pay the employees compensation with an increase of 50% and capped at $10,000, together with other costs and expenses capped at $250. Also, the employee may be awarded lost wages and benefits and also reinstatement to a previous job position.

California Whistleblower Protection Act

In addition to other forms of compensation (e.g., work benefits and legal costs) paid to the employee, employers who violate this act may be liable to pay a civil fine not exceeding $10,000 for each violation under this act.

Click for an overview of the Federal Whistleblower Laws .

More California Laws

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