The Whistleblower Law Has Expanded Employee’s Grounds For Wrongful Termination And Retaliation Against Employers.

Whistleblowers are employees that speak out about the illegal practices of their employer, either by complaining to the government (a government agency) or by complaining to someone at their company (supervisor, manager, human resource or owner).  California protects whistleblowers under Labor Code section 1102.5, which is generally known as the “Whistleblower Law”.

For many years, California’s Whistleblower Law only protected employees that actual complained about their employer’s illegal conduct to a government agency. Because the employee had to actually make a formal complaint, an employer was free to terminate any employee that had knowledge of the illegal practice and it was believed that he or she would report the employer to the authorities. Accordingly, employees that started questioning his or her employer about the legality of its practices were routinely fired before they could go to the authorities.

Recently, the Whistleblower Law was expanded in several ways, including the following:

  1. Now, employees that complain to “a person with authority over the employee” or “another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation…..” are protected from retaliation or termination. Section 1102.5 was amended to protect workers who make internal complaints to their supervisor, manager or the Human Resource department.

It is important to note that an employee need not be right when they make their complaint.  Instead, the employee need only have a “reasonable belief” that the conduct at issue is illegal.  Accordingly, as long as the employee had a good faith belief that their employer was breaking the law, the employee is protected under the whistleblower law and cannot be retaliated against or terminated. It doesn’t matter whether an employee actually prevails on their complaint.

  1. The Whistleblower Law was expanded to increase the types of complaints that can serve as a basis for protected conduct.  Previously, section 1102.5 protected complaints of conduct that violated either federal or state laws and regulations.  Now, section 1102.5 protects complaints regarding conduct that violates “local” rules or regulations. This expansion therefore includes complaints that a company’s conduct violates municipal ordinances and regulations.
  1. Finally, section 1102.5 was expanded to protect an employee from retaliation or termination if the employer believes he or she will go to the authorities. Under the old version of Section 1102.5, the employee had to actually disclose the wrongdoing.  Under the new version, it is illegal for an employer to fire someone because the employer believes that the employee disclosed or “may disclose information.”

In other words, an employee need not actually make a complaint to be protected under California’s Whistleblower Law.  It is enough if the employer believes that the employee has or will in the future make such a complaint.

The expanded protections provided by section 1102.5, also known as California’s Whistleblower Law, are relatively new and untested. They greatly increase the type of conduct that is protected and encourage employees to report what they believe is illegal conduct directly to their employer.

If you are concerned that your employer is violating the law, you need to talk to an employment lawyer. We can help you navigate California’s Whistleblower Law and preserve your rights if your employer retaliates against you. Initial consultations and evaluations for employment related violations are confidential and free, so there is no cost to you to find out if you have a valid concern and are entitled to compensation.