California has some of the most thorough health and safety regulations in the country. These laws hold local companies responsible for protecting customers and employees from dangerous situations. Of course, if every company was conscientious about keeping things safe, then the rules wouldn’t be necessary.
Sometimes your fellow staff is lazy, or management wants to save money. That’s when things can get dangerous quickly. It’s your legal right and obligation to report workplace violations to officials who can fix them: blow the whistle. Here’s what you need to know about whistleblower rights and protections in California.
What Is Whistleblowing?
According to the California Labor Code, whistleblowing is the act of reporting a violation of local, state, or federal laws and regulations to an official with the power to investigate and help correct it. Whistleblowing can also be a refusal to take actions that would violate laws and regulations.
A whistleblower is an employee who stands up to their employer when they notice illegal practices. These people are critical to keeping workplaces safe for themselves and the public. It’s just not possible to schedule enough outside inspections to keep companies honest and in line with the law.
Without whistleblowers, it would be all too easy for companies to ignore health and safety regulations. Those regulations are in place to prevent injuries, illness, and death, so violations are dangerous. Unfortunately, doing the right thing and reporting violations doesn’t always lead to a reward.
Retaliation Against Whistleblowers
The nature of whistleblowing means that sometimes, people are unhappy with the employee who did it. Violating laws and regulations is often cheaper and easier than following them. At minimum, whistleblower reports force organizations to follow the rules more closely, which takes more money and effort.
Serious reports can have harsher consequences, too. When a whistleblower reports certain violations, their employer may face an investigation and penalties like fines or location closures.
Either way, other people in the organization may be upset. It could be a fellow employee who was ignoring regulations or the business owner trying to save money by cutting corners. Upset people often want to lash out. Since they can’t go after the regulatory system, they’ll often retaliate, which is why whistleblower rights are so critical.
Depending on the situation, retaliation can take many different forms, like:
- Purposefully changing your schedule to reduce your hours or interrupt your life
- Sabotaging your performance
- Firing you
- Threatening you
- Withholding or removing benefits, promotions, or compensation
- Implementing rules to prevent whistleblowing in the future
Retaliation can be revenge for making a report, but it’s also a way to intimidate potential future whistleblowers. After all, not many people will feel comfortable reporting a health violation if it will kill their career. Since employee reports are crucial to keep workplaces safe, shielding these brave people from retaliation through whistleblower rights and protections is essential.
California’s Protections for Whistleblowers
California legislators understand the importance of protecting employees who report unsafe behavior. The Labor Code has an entire section dedicated to prohibiting employer retaliation against these people.
The law bans four specific employer behaviors toward whistleblowers:
- Employers can’t make any rules that would prevent their staff from becoming a whistleblower
- Employers can’t retaliate against someone for making a whistleblowing report
- Employers can’t force someone to take actions that would break laws or regulations or retaliate against someone who refuses to take those actions
- Employers can’t retaliate against anyone who blew the whistle at a previous workplace, either
If your employer takes any of these actions, you have grounds to report them to the Labor Board. They may be required to give you back your job, pay you back wages for the time you were unemployed, reinstate your benefits, and take any other actions needed to follow the law.
“Employer” is a broad category for a reason. It includes owners, managers, supervisors, and anyone with power over a person’s status as an employee. Even your fellow staff can take part in retribution, though. Suppose they are making your job harder to retaliate for your whistleblowing report. If management does nothing to stop it, your employer is engaging in retaliation by proxy.
What to Do If You’re Facing Retribution
Whether you’ve already blown the whistle or you’re about to, you should prepare to face retribution. There are three steps to fight against unfair workplace retaliation.
Collect evidence. No matter what, you’ll need proof that you’re facing retaliation. Collect evidence that you’re being treated differently after whistleblowing. This may include past and current work schedules or a notice of termination showing that your employment was ended or significantly changed. You can also save emails and take pictures of your workplace if you’re facing threats, sabotage, or withheld benefits.
Ask them to stop. In rare cases, you can end retaliation by appealing to upper management. If your direct manager is the problem, you might be able to appeal to their supervisor. If no one takes steps to help you, their refusal to act is another piece of evidence in your favor.
Get a lawyer. If nothing else works, you need to notify the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency (LDWA) about your situation and file a civil lawsuit. Before you take this step, make sure you have an experienced attorney on your side. The California LWDA may help you resolve the situation before you officially sue, but not always. If not, your attorney will help you file paperwork and prepare for your day in court.
Do the Right Thing and Protect Yourself
It’s natural to be worried about the consequences of blowing the whistle on illegal actions. However, if you’re considering making a report about something, don’t let your fear of retribution stop you. There California’s laws protect you from unjust payback.
If you’ve already made your report and you’re facing some kind of retribution, keep working with the legal system. Connect with a qualified whistleblower rights attorney to discuss your case. They can help you leverage your rights and avoid the consequences of retaliation. You’re supported by California law in doing the right thing, so let a Californian lawyer support you in return.