In terms of the workplace, “whistleblowing” is when you notify an outside agency or party that your employer is violating some sort of law. This can be something you notice independently, or in response to instructions that your employer gives you that appear to be illegal.
Whistleblowing is for acts that violate a criminal law, not just breaches of internal company policy. When you “blow the whistle”, so to speak, you usually do so by going to a government authority of some sort, but it can also be considered whistleblowing if you speak to a journalist or some similar third party who might initiate action using the information.
What are some potential issues at a place of employment you might notice that would cause you to become a whistleblower?
- Sexual harassment
- Illegal dumping or disposal
- Forcing employees to work through breaks or to work off the clock
- Breaches of professional ethics or standards
- Disregard for mandatory safety regulations
These are just a few commonly seen reasons why employees come forward to report on illegal behavior in their company. In most cases, these employees are not seeking compensation for themselves; they are motivated by concern about what they are seeing and a desire to protect the public or the people who are individually being hurt by the company’s actions.
California Whistleblower Protection Policy
The state of California has laws to protect employees from retaliation if they decide to become whistleblowers. The state has fairly strong protection of this nature, as it even extends to situations where the employee believes in good faith that a violation of the law is occurring without direct evidence. The company also does not have to be found guilty of the violation after the fact for this protection to remain valid. This applies to employees of both private companies and public agencies.
The primary law is known as the California Whistleblower Protection Act. This law was enacted in 2005, and was bolstered greatly by a series of new additions to it that took effect in 2014. At present, California employees are protected from retaliation not only if they report violations of the law to an outside agency, but also if they attempt to go up the “chain of command” with the issue within their own company. Again, the employee only needs “reasonable cause” to believe there is a violation of the law; they don’t have to present documented evidence of it to anyone to be protected under the terms of this act.
If a company retaliates by doing something like firing or demoting the employee, the employee can potentially recover damages. It is also possible that involved parties in the company could be charged with a misdemeanor if they are found to be responsible for retaliating.
Company Whistleblowing Policies
Some companies have pro-actively initiated their own internal whistleblowing policies and programs. Employees are sometimes hesitant to follow these policies or engage with these programs, however, out of fear of retaliation. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to engage with the company policy, however; the terms of the California Whistleblower Protection Act include protection of employees who attempt to use internal programs and are subsequently retaliated against, and the documentation of having taken these steps can actually help your case considerably.
Whistleblowing and Wrongful Termination Cases
If you are fired as a result of whistleblowing, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination case. Depending on the circumstances of the case you may be eligible to collect lost wages, damages for emotional distress and even punitive damages. If you’d like to learn more about your legal options, contact us for a no-obligation review of your circumstances.