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When are you a whistleblower?

California and federal law provide protection for whistleblowers. Protections include the fact that employers cannot move to prevent whistleblowing or retaliate against someone who has done so. But what is a whistleblower, and are you one?

A whistleblower is an employee who works for a public or private entity who also provides information about practices within that entity to a government or law enforcement agency. The information that is provided is typically about unlawful activity of some kind within the organization, such as discrimination or accounting fraud.

A person can also be a whistleblower if they provide such information to a person of authority, such as their supervisor, or another person in the organization who is tasked with investigating such matters, such as a compliance or human resource officer. The employee might also testify in a court or hearing about activities.

Whistleblowers must have a reasonable cause to think that illegal activity is occurring. The activity must violate federal, state, industry or local laws or regulations. Another reason to be a whistleblower would be if you felt that the employer was violating critical safety standards or putting workers in danger. Such cases might be reported to Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

One of the first steps in whistleblowing is deciding who or what entity to report the issue to. Safety issues are reported to OSHA, but sexual harassment issues would not be. Working with a lawyer can help you understand what action would be best for you and where you should make a report. An attorney can also help you protect yourself against retaliation or seek reparation if you have been fired or demoted because of whistleblowing.

Source: California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, "Whistleblowers are Protected," accessed May 13, 2016

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