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Whistleblower Laws Protecting Californians

  • Employees in Los Angeles California are protected by several federal and state anti-retaliation and whistleblower laws. A whistleblower is generally an employee who works for a private or public entity that is participating in some form of illegal conduct, and that employee complains about the illegal conduct either internally to management, or externally to a government agency or the press. Internally, whistleblowers can try to stop the illegal conduct by complaining to any level of management, or by complaining and then refusing to participate in the illegal activity. Externally, a whistleblower can go to a government agency and report the unlawful activity. Sometimes, whistleblowers can go to the press to publically expose an entity’s wrongdoing. There are specific laws that protect some whistleblowers from retaliation, but it is always wise to speak with an experienced Los Angeles and California employment law attorney before becoming a whistleblower. An employment attorney should make sure that you will be legally protected from retaliation by your employer before you start making complaints. Always make the complaints in writing, so the employer cannot deny the complaints were made if you need to file a lawsuit. While there are multiple state and federal laws that protect various types of whistleblowers, many whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation under California Labor Code § 1102.5. California Labor Code § 1102.5(b) states:
    “An employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, shall not retaliate against an employee for disclosing information, or because the employer believes that the employee disclosed or may disclose information, to a government or law enforcement agency, to a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance, or for providing information to, or testifying before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry, if the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation of or noncompliance with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation, regardless of whether disclosing the information is part of the employee's job duties.”
    Further, California Labor Code § 1102.5(c) states:
    “An employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, shall not retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation of or noncompliance with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation.”
    However, the protections of Labor Code § 1102.5 do not extend to employees who violate the attorney-client privilege, physician-patient privilege, or who have disclosed trade secrets. California Labor Code § 1102.5(g). Moreover, California Labor Code § 2856 denies an employer authority to direct an employee to perform an illegal act. Thus, an employee is protected legally from retaliation when he/she refuses to perform any conduct that is illegal. If an employer retaliates against an employee for refusing to participate in conduct that violates the law, the employer can be sued for unlawful retaliation. There are many other statues in California meant to protect whistleblowers. The California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 (Cal-OSHA) protects employees from retaliation that complain about workplace safety. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which protects employees from unlawful discrimination or harassment based upon race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, physical or mental disabilities, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, age (persons over 40), and pregnancy, also protects employees from retaliation for complaining or reporting violations of FEHA. California Labor Code § 98.6 protects employees from retaliation for engaging in political activity or running for public office. Labor Code § 98.6 also protects employees from retaliation for complaining about violations of their rights contained in the California Labor Code such as to be paid for all hours worked, to get rest and meal breaks, to be paid overtime, to be paid minimum wage, etc. The Federal and California False Claims Act (Government Code §§ 12650-12656) makes anyone who knowingly makes a false claim to a federal or state agency liable for substantial damages and civil penalties. Employees may bring “qui tam” actions pursuant to the False Claims Act against their employer for making false claims to any government entity for damages and penalties. The “qui tam” plaintiff can share in the monetary recovery made up of penalties and damages resulting from each false claim. For example, an employee who has inside information that their employer is knowingly selling defective products to a government entity, stealing natural resources, or just overbilling the government, has a potential qui tam action against their employer. Further, an employee who is bringing a qui tam action against their employer is protected from retaliation. Thus, an employee suing their employer under the False Claims Act is protected from being terminated for it. There are simply too many situations in which an employee may be legally protected as a whistleblower to list in this blog. That is why employees should always consult with an experienced employment lawyers to determine their California employee rights. The good thing is some of the best employment law firms will discuss your rights as an employee for free.

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