Thanks to changes in 2014 to the laws protecting whistleblowers in California, employees who report suspected violations of federal or state laws to their bosses, instead of directly to the police or government officials, enjoy the same protections as those that go outside of the company with their information.
Unfortunately, not every company seems to have gotten the message.
For example, a California woman has filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo alleging that she was subjected to harassment and ultimately wrongfully terminated after 14 years of employment in retaliation for reporting illegal sales practices by other employees to her superiors.
The woman, a bank manager for 11 years, reported that some of the sales employees were opening accounts and credit cards without the express consent of the customers. An investigation ultimately uncovered widespread illegal activity and the financial firm has faced lawsuits from some former customers who allege their credit scores were harmed by the new accounts. The company was also fined $185 million for the illegal activity of its employees.
The company is alleged to have responded by subjecting the whistleblower to harassment, including unfair disciplinary actions, hostile interrogations from her bosses and suddenly poor performance evaluations. She was then demoted, transferred and had her wages reduced in the 10 months prior to being fired.
This is exactly the sort of behavior that whistleblower laws were meant to prevent. Sometimes employees think that by taking their report to their internal bosses that they can avoid the retaliation that others have faced after taking their allegations to outside authorities.
If that were so, the 2014 changes to the law probably wouldn’t have been necessary to enact. It’s important to note that you’re protected not only from retaliation by your direct employer but also from retaliation by anyone acting on your employer’s behalf, like a management “consultant” who is suddenly brought in to overhaul your department.
Whistleblowers who are successful in their lawsuits can claim lost wages, ask for reinstatement and sometimes recover for damage to their reputation. If you believe you have been retaliated against unfairly at your place of employment, you might find the assistance of an experienced attorney very helpful.
Source: California Labor Law News, “Wells Fargo Whistleblower Files California Harassment Lawsuit,” Heidi Turner, Dec. 29, 2016