California has strong whistleblower statutes that protect employees who report illegal conduct or safety violations in the workplace. These laws are found in the California Labor Code, the California Government Code and the California Health and Safety Code.
In addition, as stated in the section of Discrimination/Harassment/Retaliation, California Government Code §12940 makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing employment discrimination administrative charges, for complaining about discrimination or harassment internally to the employer, for threatening to file a discrimination or harassment charge, for assisting others in filing them, for being a witness in another employee’s DFEH action (or if an employer believes this was the case), for opposing unlawful employment practices even if the employee mistakenly but reasonably believed s/he was opposing discrimination or harassment, or for participating in a workplace discrimination or harassment investigation.
California Labor Code §1102.5
This law provides the broadest protection to both private and public sector employees. Under §1102.5, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for disclosing information that the employee reasonably believes may violate a federal, state or local law, rule or regulation. Note that the statute does not cover reporting internal violations of an employer’s policies or procedures unless that amounts to a potential violation of a federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.
If you report your complaint to the government or law enforcement, to your boss or to a co-worker who has authority to investigate or correction the violation, that constitutes a protected activity under §1102.5. Employees are also protected if they are providing information to, or testifying before, any public body conducting an investigation or hearing, as the DFEH or the SEC, for example.
In order to find protection under §1102.5, the employee must show that: (1) s/he engaged in protected activity (i.e., reported to a supervisor that the employer violated a law, for example); (2) that an adverse employment action was taken against the employee as a result of the complaint (i.e., discipline, reduction in salary or benefits, demotion or termination); (3) a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.
Damages that the employee can recover are lost wages and damages for pain and suffering. The employer may also be required to pay civil penalties of $10,000 per violation. In extreme cases, punitive damages may be recoverable.
You should be mindful of the statute of limitations which is three years.
California Labor Code §§6310 and 6311
Section 6310 prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee who has made a complaint to the government or their employer regarding unsafe working conditions or work practices or has participated in an employer-employee occupational and safety committee.
An employee may bring an action under the statute and be awarded reinstatement to employment and reimbursement for lost wages and benefits.
In addition, Section 6311 prohibits an employer from discharging an employee who refuses to perform work that violates California’s health and safety laws where the violation would create a real and apparent hazard to the employee or to the employee’s co-workers.
The employee may recover lost wages and benefits.
California Labor Code §98.6
This law prohibits employers from taking any adverse action against an employee because the employee made a written or oral complaint that they are owed unpaid wages or otherwise tried to assert their employment rights. Remedies include reinstatement and reimbursement of lost wages and benefits.
California Government Code §8547, et seq.
This law protects California state employees against retaliation if they report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, threats to the public, and other violations of law. If you are a state employee, you can report violations to the State Auditor who investigates reports of improper government conduct.
State employees can file a complaint with the State Personnel Board within twelve months of the last act of retaliation. State employees may also file an action in court after exhausting administrative remedies.
Health and Safety Code §1278.5
This law protects employees in the health care industry as patients, nurses, medical staff, and other health care workers who notify government entities of suspected unsafe patient care and conditions. The law prohibits a health facility from discriminating or retaliating against a patient, employee, medical staff member or other health care worker who has:
Presented a grievance, complaint, or report to the facility, to an entity or agency responsible for accrediting or evaluating the facility, or the medical staff of the facility, or to any other governmental entity;
Initiated, participated, or cooperated in an investigation or administrative proceeding related to the quality of care, services or conditions at the facility that is carried out by an entity or agency responsible for accrediting or evaluating the facility or its medical staff, or governmental entity.
A successful employee may be entitled to reinstatement if terminated and reimbursement for lost wages and benefits.