What legal protection does California provide private sector employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?
As a general rule, most employees may be fired at any time-for any reason or for no reason at all-under what is known as the at-will employment doctrine. However, in the past half-century, many exceptions to the general rule have emerged.
Exceptions to this general rule originate from two different sources: (1) the courts, which can make case decisions that affect or modify and make "common law protections" or (2) the legislature, which enacts statutory protections for workers against retaliation. The statutory non-retaliation statutes tend to apply to very different and particular types of situations encountered by employees. Thus, the legislature has addressed protections addressing certain subject areas (such as discrimination, workers' compensation, etc.).
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This post focuses on the California Statutes currently in effect that protect California workers against retaliation for complaining about workplace related issues.
California has a general whistleblower protection statute. This statute, which is codified at Civil Code Section 1102.5 protects employees who disclose or complaint about illegal activity or refuse to participate in illegal activities. These employees are protected under both this statute and the common law public policy exception. Also, several other California statutes contain anti-retaliation provisions.
On October 12, 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new bill which that expands protections for whistleblowers in California. This bill altered California Labor Code Section 1102.5, California's general whistleblower statute. The amendments are effective January 1, 2014.
Section 1102.5 already prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who reported reasonably-believed violations of state or federal laws, rules, or regulations to a government or law enforcement agency. The new law, SB 496 extended this protection to employees who report suspected illegal behavior. Thus, the law now protects complaints made (1) internally to "a person with authority over the employee" or to another employee with the authority to "investigate discover, or correct" the reported violation; or (2) externally to any "public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry."
The Law Offices of Daniel Feder is one of the leading Wage and Hour law firms in San Francisco, San Jose and Alameda Counties. See, Wage and Hour.