It’s important for employees to stand up to unethical or illegal activities in the workplace. Unfortunately, the pressure to keep silent is often overwhelming. Whistleblowing is the right thing to do but sometimes doing the right thing has unexpected emotional and financial consequences.
Some employers terminate employees or make it difficult to resume their careers elsewhere. Others simply make the workplace environment uncomfortable. The California Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits these retaliatory actions. If an employer continues their punitive behavior, the CWPA gives employees legal rights to make a claim against them.
If you are a whistleblower retaliation victim, you understand that the legal issues are often complicated. It’s critical to consult with a legal professional who will stand up for your legal rights. At Perkins Asbill, we believe that every employee deserves professional legal representation. For over three decades, our attorneys have provided legal assistance for employees of all backgrounds and industries.
Whistleblowers Provide an Important Service
Whistleblowers often jeopardize their careers, peace of mind and financial security to do what’s right. They do it to benefit fellow workers, citizens, and consumers and to preserve their own integrity. Past whistleblowers have revealed corporate secrets that changed the way we see cigarettes, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, and other products. They have revealed government overspending and drawn attention to nuclear power plant safety. The media regularly shares whistleblower stories. They show how courageous employees play an important role in keeping employers and organizations honest and citizens safe.
- A recent KPBS Public Media news story explained how a California woman filed a complaint concerning irregularities in handling quarantined coronavirus patients. She complained that Health and Human Services Department Employees were improperly trained and wore inadequate protective gear when dealing with evacuees from China. The woman has since alleged through her attorney that HHS has committed retaliative acts in an effort to silence her.
- Integra Med Analytics is using a different approach to whistleblowing. They aren’t government employees, but they used data analytics to uncover potential Medicare Fraud. Their discoveries give them the authority to file a qui tam lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act. They are making claims in both California and Texas under a federal statute which became effective during the Civil War. California has a similar False Claims Act. It spells out recovery rights for those who report Medicaid fraud.
The California Whistleblower Protection Act
California Government Code, Chapter, 6.5, Article 3. California Whistleblower Protection Act [8547 – 8547.15] provides protections for state employees and those conducting business with the state. It covers people employed directly by the state, California University, and California State University. It also covers contractors, job applicants, and clients seeking state services. The act was designed to encourage employees and others to feel free to report “…waste, fraud, abuse…” and other unethical or illegal acts.
The CWPA makes it illegal for a public employee to directly or indirectly use “…official authority or influence…” in an attempt to interfere with rights granted by the act. A person in authority cannot attempt to control or influence an employee or other party through intimidation, coercion, retribution or other threatening behaviors. The act also prohibits employers from recommending or devising reprisal actions or ordering others to take actions on their behalf. Prohibited behaviors include inappropriate handling of personnel-related processes such as:
- Performance evaluations
- Disciplinary actions
Making a Claim
The California State Auditor investigates all state employee Whistleblower Act claims. The office holds a wide spectrum of investigative powers over most state offices, departments, bureaus, boards, and commissions, and executive and judicial branches. Their investigative responsibilities include:
- Elected constitutional officials
- Appointed state officials
- Civil service employees
The auditor’s office has no power to investigate state senators, assemblymen, legislative staff; local and federal government agencies and employees; or private businesses, entities, and nonprofits.
The Auditor Makes Recommendations Only
The state auditor investigates cases involving embezzlement, conflicts of interest, improper overtime, and other inappropriate actions. They have investigative powers only. The independent investigators who handle these cases maintain each employee’s confidentiality throughout the process. A whistleblower may report an incident anonymously if they choose.
If the auditor’s office finds that a report has merit, they take one of several actions.
- Make a report to the involved agency
- Make a confidential report to the Attorney General, a criminal law or administrative law enforcement agency, or a licensing agency
- Publish a public report
Making a Claim for Retaliation Damages
To make a formal claim for reprisal, threats, coercion or other retaliative actions, you must file a complaint and a sworn statement with your supervisor, manager, or appointing power. You must also file your complaint with the State Personnel Board. In addition to the state’s internal process, you have a right to file a lawsuit for damages. Courts award punitive damages under certain circumstances. If law enforcement authorities find the offender guilty of retaliatory acts against you, punishment may include a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment of up to one year in jail.
Additional Whistleblower Rights
As a Californian, you have protections under a network of state and federal laws.
- California False Claims Act
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Whistleblower Programs
- Cal/Osha Complaint under Labor Code Section 6310
- California Health and Safety Codes 1278.5
These and other laws protect employees and designated individuals from retaliatory acts when they report unethical or illegal activities. Some statutes include provisions for back wages and job reinstatement. Others allow additional damages and incentives as a reward for blowing the whistle and revealing inappropriate behavior.
Employment Lawyers in Sacramento, California
Employers and others in authority do not have a legal right to punish you for reporting improper conduct. If you are a retaliation victim, you may have a right to make a whistleblower claim. To secure your rights, you must comply with the appropriate laws, filing processes, proof requirements, and timeframes. It’s important to consult with an employment attorney immediately.
To learn more about your legal rights, Contact Perkins Asbill at 916-446-2000 or complete our Intake Form. Let us schedule a consultation meeting to determine if we can help you.