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California Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower laws protect employees from being retaliated against after reporting that their employer has violated the law or breached the public trust. For instance, an employee who is fired after reporting that her company illegally dumps waste into the local river could file a whistleblower lawsuit against her employer. California whistleblower laws protect both public and private employees (not all states do), while instances of retaliation may also be charged as crimes.

California's whistleblower law was strengthened in 2014 when three additional laws were enacted and added to the California Whistleblower Protection Act. The existing law already prohibited retaliation against an employee who reports violation of state or federal laws to a government official or the police. One of the new laws expands this to also include the reporting of a suspected violation internally (for instance, to a supervisor within the organization) or externally to "any public body" conducting a hearing or investigation.

Additionally, California law now extends this liability beyond the employer to include anyone acting on behalf of the employer (such a third party management contractor). Also, California whistleblower protections protect workers who disclose violations even if doing so is not part of their official job duties.

Anyone who is eligible for protection under California's whistleblower laws may also file a claim for any damages sustained by the retaliation. This typically includes repayment of lost wages; reinstatement; and sometimes damages pertaining to a damaged reputation (depending on the nature of the retaliation). The office of the California State Auditor provides detailed information on how to file a civil complaint for violation of state whistleblower laws.

The following table highlights the basics of California whistleblower laws. See Whistleblower Protections to learn more.

Code Section Labor §1102.5 to 1105
Prohibited Employer Activity Can not prevent or retaliate against employee for disclosing to government or law enforcement agency when employee has reasonable cause to believe there's a violation
Protection for Public or Private Employees? Both
Opportunity for Employer to Correct? -
Remedies Can recover damages for injury suffered
Penalties Misdemeanor: individual, up to 1 year in county jail and/or $1,000 fine; corporate, maximum $5,000 fine

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a California employment attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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