Whistleblower laws are designed to protect people who come forward with information about misconduct or illegal activities in the workplace. They’re designed to encourage people to take action against wrongful activity and to provide those people who do so with some measure of security in return for their honesty and bravery.
Not every state has strong whistleblower laws, but California does. Employers have long been prohibited from retaliating against whistleblower employees by firing them, demoting them, transferring them to less-than-desirable positions or otherwise harassing them.
Unfortunately for many whistleblowers, however, the world can be a small place and employers who are frustrated and unable to directly retaliate have sometimes found another way to get even: They go after other employees who are part of the whistleblower’s family.
It isn’t uncommon, especially in industrial fields, for family members to work for the same company. Sometimes employees meet on the job and marry and start a family. Sometimes older relatives with help younger relatives get a foot in the door with the company and numerous family members end up working together.
That can be a serious problem for whistleblowers. People may be willing risk their own jobs, but they don’t want to risk their mother’s, father’s, brother’s, or cousin’s job. However, as of January, 2016, Assembly Bill 1509 went into affect specifically to address that issue. AB 1509 broadened the existing whistleblower laws to make it illegal to retaliate against the whistleblower’s family member-coworkers as well.
How can you or a family member tell that you’re being retaliated against? Some signs are easy, but other maneuvers can be much more subtle:
—Your employer suddenly takes disciplinary action against you or your relative over something that was always acceptable before.
—Your employer suddenly gives you or your relative negative performance reviews when nothing about the quality of your work has changed.
—Your employer denies you or your relative ordinary time off work, when taking time off has never been an issue before.
—Your employer gives you or your relative an increased workload, maybe one that’s almost impossible to achieve.
Those are just some of the examples of how an employer might retaliate against you or a family member after you blow the whistle. An attorney at our firm would be happy to discuss your situation and help you determine if you or a relative-coworker are a victim of retaliation for whistleblowing.