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Employers must heed California’s whistleblower laws

Whistleblowers and employers often have a contentious relationship. Although whistleblowers raise important concerns about workplace issues, it is sometimes to the detriment of the employer. But employers should not necessarily feel antipathy toward whistleblowers. Employees who alert regulatory agencies, law enforcement or the public to legal violations in the workplace are performing a much-needed service.

Sometimes, whistleblowers face retaliation at their jobs after reporting a workplace issue. This may be to punish them for their actions, to send a message to other employees or to discourage future whistleblowing. California has several laws in place to protect whistleblowers, and it is crucial for employers to understand them.

California whistleblowers

California has some of the country’s strongest whistleblower protection measures. The California Whistleblower Protection Act ensures that both public and private employees are protected from retaliation after reporting workplace violations to law enforcement, government officials or internal management. In 2014, the state passed three additional laws to fortify the Act. Essentially, these laws reinforce protection for whistleblowers and penalize anyone working on behalf of the employer who retaliates against them. In some cases, retaliation can even be a misdemeanor offense that can incur a fine of up to $5,000.

Legal consequences for employers

As we mentioned, employers can face criminal charges for retaliating against employee whistleblowers. These cases are rare, though. It is far more likely that a whistleblower who is penalized would file a lawsuit. These lawsuits are usually intended to recoup any damages sustained from whistleblowing, including lost wages and reinstatement. Lawsuits are an additional blow for employers who also face consequences from the whistleblower’s reporting of legal violations. It would be wise for all California employers to understand the state’s laws regarding whistleblowers and understand their legal options if someone blows the whistle on them.