Can my employer fire me because I reported illegal activity to a government entity or to my employer?

Prior to January 1, 2014, California law prohibited employers from retaliating against any person who filed a complaint with a government agency, or participated in an investigation of his or her employer.  Retaliation means that an employer could discharge (terminate or fire), demote, suspend, cut pay or otherwise subject an employee to adverse employment action simply because that employee decided to report illegal activity to a government agency.  Employers also were barred from enforcing any rule, regulation, or policy preventing an employee from disclosing information to a governmental or law enforcement agency.

Effective January 1, 2014, the scope of section 1102.5 (California’s whistleblowing statute) will be expanded in three important ways:

First, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees because the employer believes that the employee disclosed information internally to a person with authority over the employee, or to another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation, if the employee has reasonable cause to believe such information constitutes a violation of law.  In other words, it is no longer necessary for an employee to report the illegal activity to a government agency in order to obtain protection against retaliation under the law.

Second, the law prohibits retaliation against an employee because the employer “believes the employee disclosed or may disclose information” to someone.  In other words, the law has been expanded to eliminate the requirement that an employee actually report an illegal activity.  An employer who retaliates against an employee based on the belief that the employee may engage in protected activity will also be in violation of California law.

Third, the law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for disclosing or refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of or noncompliance with a local rule or regulation in addition to a federal or state statute, rule or regulation.

In addition, penalties of $10,000 per instance of retaliation will be tacked on to other monetary awards to prevailing plaintiffs of retaliation complaints.  Prevailing employees also may be able to recover their attorneys’ fees.  Only time and litigation will tell how these will affect the amount and outcome of retaliation complaints in California.

An experienced employment law attorney can help you navigate the legal process to successfully litigate a retaliation claim.

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