There is no denying that employees and employers are struggling with the effects of living through a pandemic.
While we have already been struggling through this for quite some time, public health experts in the U.S. even suggest that we will likely be dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic through Fall 2021.
Whistleblower Rights in California: An Employment Lawyer’s Explanation
Yet, even though many of us have transitioned to online work from home environments, many people are still working in person. In fact, many people working in person are experiencing unsafe work environments that put them at serious risk of COVID-19 infection or other forms of harm.
If you are working in person and feel unsafe, you’re likely asking yourself what rights you have as an employee to protect yourself from an employer who is not looking out for your wellbeing.
What Is a Whistleblower?
Experiencing a dangerous workplace environment is scary, and many people do not even know what it means to be a whistleblower, let alone that they are legally protected if they decide to whistleblow.
In the simplest terms, a whistleblower is an individual who reports fraud, abuse, corruption, and/or dangers to public safety or health to someone in a position to make a change.
Typically, a whistleblower is someone who works inside the company that they are reporting, but you do not have to be an employee in order to be considered a whistleblower if you report a company’s wrongdoing.
The most important factor in order to be considered a whistleblower is that the individual who reports a company’s wrongdoing provides information that would not be known otherwise. Specifically, during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are more likely to report company safety procedures that put consumers or employees in an unsafe environment where they might be at higher risk of infection.
This is a report of dangers to public health and safety, and examples could include cooks not wearing masks at a restaurant, ignoring room capacity requirements from the CDC in a store or restaurant, etc.
What State Laws Protect Whistleblower Rights
In California, whistleblowers are entitled to workplace protections under the California Whistleblower Protection Act (CWPA). This act allows some California agencies to look into and take action when a whistleblower reports a company’s wrongdoings or actions that break the law.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the CWPA protects employers or companies from retaliating against employees who whistleblow.
When someone whistle blows on an employer, the employer can experience some serious consequences if a California agency determines that they have violated the CWPA or the California Labor Code by retaliating against the whistleblower.
In fact, an employer might be required to pay damages to the employee who suffered as a result of retaliation, which includes lost wages, lost benefits, legal fees, etc.
Some examples of whistleblowing in California can include (but are not limited to):
- Reporting tax fraud
- Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace
- Reporting racial discrimination
- Reporting safety violations in the workplace
As mentioned above, during the COVID-19 pandemic individuals should be extremely cognizant of any businesses that pose a threat to public health by not following CDC guidelines.
If you have a whistleblower on a company and fear retaliation or are unsure what your next steps should be, it’s important to speak with an experienced employment attorney in California who can ensure your protection.
What Federal Protections Exist for Whistleblowers?
In addition to many state laws that protect whistleblowers, there are multiple federal laws that specifically protect federal employees or contractors. The most notorious federal law that protects whistleblowers is called the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Similar to the CWPA, the Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees from experiencing retaliation at the hands of their employer for being a whistleblower.
Additionally, the Whistleblower Protection Act allows for individuals to report when a company has broken the law, fraud, abuse of power, sexual harassment, dangers to public safety, etc.
Other federal laws that protect whistleblowers include the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, and more.
What Exactly is Whistleblower Retaliation?
Even though there are many laws that protect whistleblowers, sometimes employers still retaliate against their employees for doing the right thing and reporting dangerous or illegal business practices.
Whistleblower retaliation is defined as an employer punishing an employee for engaging in a protected activity (i.e. whistleblowing). It’s important to note that retaliation from an employer is not always obvious, so you should make sure to keep an eye out for any odd behavior from your employer.
Some examples of retaliation you might experience as a result of whistleblowing include:
- Employment penalties
- Refusing to provide benefits or promotions
About the Author:
Behrad Brumand is a digital media specialist in Legal Soft Solution, working alongside attorneys and law firms based in US to make the transition into the digital world and technology much more convenient.