Retaliation and Challenges California Whistleblowers Face

August 28, 2022

In California, a whistleblower is considered an individual who reports an employer's violations of the law, regulations, policies, or rights or bears witness to other illegal conduct that creates unsafe working environments or conditions for employees or exposes the public to danger. However, coming forward as a whistleblower is not always without burdens or challenges. Many whistleblowers face discrimination and other forms of retaliation by simply trying to do what is necessary to ensure the workplace and its duties return to an ethical state, with safety and the well-being of all employees at the forefront and everyone's rights protected.

The California Whistleblower Protection Act, known as California Labor Code Section 1102.5, is designed to encourage workplace whistleblowers to inform authorities when they discover unlawful acts without fear of retaliation. In addition, the Whistleblower Protection Act underwent amendments to include employee protections for internal reports of illegal wrongdoing as well as external whistleblowing to public bodies. California's Whistleblower legislation extends to all public and private employment. However, there are still many ways employers and coworkers violate state and federal whistleblower protections.

What is whistleblower retaliation, and what form can it take?

Retaliation is a form of payback or revenge, and retaliation toward the whistleblower can, unfortunately, be quite common. Retaliation comes in many shapes and often originates from the employer.

An employer who takes measures detrimental to an employee's career in response to an employee reporting a violation of their rights or assisting in an investigation is considered to have engaged in workplace retaliation.

Under the California retaliation laws and Whistleblower Protection Act, employees who either report or aid in the investigation of the following are protected:

  • Acts of discrimination or discriminatory work environment (g., protected characteristics)
  • Dangers posed to the public by a business or entity
  • Harassment in the workplace
  • Non-compliance with state, local, or federal regulations
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Taking part in illegal activities and violating the rights of employees
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Wages and overtime that are not paid or underpaid
  • Workplace hazards, accidents, and injuries

An employee can be subjected to retaliation after speaking up about wrongdoing or filing a complaint as a whistleblower. Some examples of workplace retaliation include but are not limited to the following:

  • Benefit denial
  • Demotion
  • Constructed or forced discharge
  • Harassment of the employee for speaking up
  • Isolation of the employee
  • Implementation of intimidation tactics
  • Falsified performance reports
  • Career path blocking (unsatisfactory or unwarranted discrediting references and blacklisting)
  • Given fewer hours, unwanted shifts, or even relocated to an inconvenient location
  • Failure to hire or rehire
  • Wrongful termination

When faced with retaliation as a whistleblower, what can you do?

Retaliation complaints may be filed with state and federal government agencies. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, you may choose to report retaliation incidents to human resources. Be sure to keep a record of all retaliation events, including noting the time and date and any potential witnesses. You should save any correspondence related to the matter, make copies of written and virtual documentation, and keep all evidence organized. Whenever you or someone you love experiences retaliation after reporting a violation or requires assistance navigating the process, don't hesitate to contact an experienced employment litigation attorney.

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