Employees are often aware of privileged or sensitive information about the company they work for, and in some cases, the company has a lawful right to prevent employees from discussing certain information publicly. However, when employees witness or learn of illegal practices in their workplace, they have a right to report that information without fear of retaliation from their employer. The attorneys at Minnis & Smallets have represented many employees who faced illegal retaliation or policies in their workplace, and we want to share important information about the protections whistleblower employees have under California law and the remedies available if those protections are violated.
Employee Protections Available for Whistleblowers
There are some industry-specific protections for reporting illegal activity, but the primary law covering protections for whistleblowers in California is Labor Code 1102.5. The law offers three forms of protection to employees:
- Employers are prohibited from creating or enforcing any rule or policy that would prohibit an employee from reporting illegal activity, violations of law, or non-compliance to a government agency or relevant authority.
- Employers may not retaliate against an employee who reports illegal activity, violations of law, or non-compliance. This applies if the employee had reasonable cause to believe that the information disclosed violated or did not comply with the law, regardless of whether disclosing the information was part of the employee’s job duties.
- Employers may not retaliate against employees for refusing to participate in activity that is illegal or would result in a violation of the law.
Legal Remedies for Violations of Labor Code 1102.5
Whistleblower laws are intended to discourage employers from concealing violations of law or punishing employees who report such violations, and so the penalties for companies and organizations that violate section 1102.5 can be severe. Employers may be required to pay for damages the employee incurred or may be ordered to reinstate the employee with back pay and benefits.
In late 2020, the California legislature enacted an amendment to section 1102.5, which took effect in January 2021. Under the amended law, employees who successfully prove a violation of section 1102.5 may also be awarded attorney’s fees. This small but significant change is designed to make it easier for low-income workers to file a claim of retaliation by improving access to legal representation.
In discussing the need for the change, the California legislature wrote about the importance of anti-retaliation laws, calling them “the bedrock upon which all other workplace rights rest.”
Dedicated to Defending the Rights of Whistleblowers
California employees should never be denied the full protection of the state’s labor laws, including the right to report illegal conduct without fear of retaliation. And when violations do occur, workers deserve a strong advocate to help them seek all legal remedies available to them. At Minnis & Smallets, our San Francisco employment attorneys are committed to defending employees who have been retaliated against, harassed, or discriminated against in their workplace. We have helped numerous workers in the Bay Area and throughout the state to resolve tough legal challenges and defend their rights as workers. If you believe your employer has retaliated against you in an illegal way, contact our office to discuss your situation and what options may be available.