California Whistleblower Law
What is a whistleblower in California? People complain about workplace issues all the time, but that doesn’t make them a whistleblower, does it? In a nutshell, a whistleblower is an employee who complains about or reports some type of illegal activity. This activity is usually something like an unsafe work environment, financial fraud, or unsafe patient care. Then, the employee is fired for the complaint. The Bohm Law Group has represented dozens of workers in high profile whistleblower cases.
This page was designed to explain the law to someone who feels like they were just fired unlawfully. This page discuss some of the different types of whistleblower cases and whistleblower laws, and provide some guidance to those who might have suffered retaliation after blowing the whistle. Continue reading to learn more about the following topics:
- Whistleblower Basics
- Types of whistleblower cases
- What can I recover in a whistleblower lawsuit?
- What is the statute of limitations in whistleblower cases?
- Consulting an employment attorney
It’s important to remember that nothing contained on this page is intended as a substitute for speaking directly with an employment lawyer. If you have questions about your particular employment situation or california whistleblower laws, contact the BLG to see how we can help.
An employee becomes a whistleblower when a violation of law occurs, or is perceived to occur, and the worker attempts to notify the proper authorities — be it a company supervisor, law enforcement officer — or other person with the power to investigate workplace violations.
While there are different types of whistleblower laws, California Labor Code § 1102.5 is one of CA’s primary statutes. This law makes it illegal for employers to fire employees who refuse to participate in an unlawful activity. It also makes it unlawful for an employer to prevent workers from disclosing information about workplace violations to persons of authority or governmental agencies. Such persons of authority could include a law enforcement officer conducting an investigation, a human resources supervisor interviewing employees, or any number of other persons of with the authority to investigate or correct the violation. It is also a violation of the law for an employer to retaliate or harass the whistleblower for participating in the above-described activity.
It’s important to remember that whistleblower law exists at both the state and federal level. These laws provide different types of whistleblowers protection and can be used by attorneys to pursue your case. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of whistleblower cases.
Types of Whistleblower Cases
Patient Safety Cases
In addition to sections of the state labor code, there are other california whistleblower laws. One of the most powerful are healthcare whistleblowers, or patient safety cases. Generally, California’s Health and Safety Code § 1278.5 protects whistleblowers by encouraging nurses, medical staff and other health care workers to notify government entities of unsafe patient care and conditions. It is a violation of the law for an employer to retaliate or discriminate against any worker who complains about unsafe patient care or conditions.
To learn more about how a healthcare whistleblower lawsuit works in the real world, click here to read about a Psychologist whistleblower who won her case against Napa State Hospital in 2014. Her suit, which resulted in a combined $1 million award involved healthcare for mentally ill patients.
Subsection (d)(1) of the law also establishes, in certain cases, what is known as a “rebuttal presumption.” This means that when a whistleblower claim is filed against a medical establishment the employer is assumed to have engaged in discriminatory action until it can be proven otherwise.
Refusing to Violate the Law
California Labor Code 1102.5 makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for “refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or … noncompliance with a state or federal rule or regulation.”
As with other sections of california whistleblower laws, the worker’s activities are protected. If you feel you have been the victim of retaliation, harassment or discrimination due to your refusal to break the law, or for reporting a company violation, contact our whistleblower attorneys for more information.
Unsafe Working Environments
There is an section of the Labor Code that address workplace safety and employee safety. It has a retaliation/whistleblower state which can be found in Labor Code § 6310. It says:
(b) Any employee who is discharged… because the employee has made a bona fide oral or written complaint to… his or her employer… of unsafe working conditions, or work practices, in his or her employment or place of employment, or has participated in an employer-employee occupational health and safety committee, shall be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by the acts of the employer.
Basically, if you complain about workplace safety to your employer or to OSHA, and your employer punishes you for doing so, you can file a whistleblower lawsuit. Visit this page to learn more information about OSHA whistleblower cases.
Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Cases
A Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower case involves when an employee reports that their employer, a publicly traded company, is not reporting accurate financial information to investors or the public. These cases are all about accurate financial information. Since the public is buy and selling shares of that company, they rely upon receiving accurate financial information from the company. But some employers (think Enron) puff up their data in order to enrich themselves. If an employee notices this violation, and complains to HR, the SEC, or any other regulatory body, and they get retaliated against, they may have a case.
Qui Tam Cases
The phrase Qui Tam is reference to a Latin saying which translates roughly to “a person who sues in this matter for the king as well as himself.”
Qui Tam Whistleblower cases are covered by a section of the federal and state False Claims Act, which makes it illegal to knowingly provide fraudulent receipts to the government. Both are the federal and state acts are considered whistleblower law.
Private workers who report Medicare fraud, as well as employees of companies providing goods and services to the military can file qui tam cases. The law allows the whistleblower to sue on behalf of the government and retrieve a portion of the judgment. While the state and federal law closely mirror one another, the state law allows the whistleblower to collect a larger percentage of the settlement in some cases.
IRS Whistleblower Cases
Many would be surprised to find out that the IRS runs a program offering rewards to those who blow the whistle on tax dodgers. 26 U.S. Code § 7623(b) specifically references those who report tax evasion and how they can become eligible to “receive as an award 15 percent but not more than 30 percent of the collected proceeds (including penalties, interest, additions to tax, and additional amounts), resulting from the action or from any settlement in response to such action.”
In order to be eligible for such an award, the whistleblower must be able to provide specific and credible information to the IRS resulting in the collection of taxes penalties, or interest from the tax dodger. In some cases, if the whistleblower disagrees with the outcome of the settlement, he or she can appeal the decision in Tax Court.
If you have more questions about IRS whistleblower cases, contact our office to see if we can help.
What Can I Recover in a Lawsuit?
Because of the different types of whistleblower cases, as well as variation in california whistleblower laws, there is no one simple answer to this question. Some cases settle before a trial takes place, and settlement amounts are not made public.
Other cases are decided by a judge, and some are decided by a jury. It’s important to remember that different people considering the same set of facts might come to totally different conclusions.
However, generally speaking, winners of whistleblower cases can recover lost wages if they have been terminated. Sometimes they will also win emotional distress damages for mental pain and suffering caused by the termination or harassment. In very rare instances, the whistleblower will be awarded punitive damages designed to punish the employer and prevent similar abuses in the future. However, in order to secure punitive damages, the legal team must convince a jury that the employer acted with oppression, fraud or malice. This is very difficult to do.
In certain types of Qui Tam false claim cases, the whistleblower is eligible to receive 50 percent of the damages recovered. In IRS whistleblower cases, this amount can be as high as 30 percent.
What is the Statute of Limitations in whistleblower cases?
Depending on the specific situation, the statute of limitations provided by whistleblower law can vary. In any situation, it’s highly recommended that you speak with an attorney about your specific case as soon as possible to find out exactly what your options are. If the statute of limitations runs out, your case could be lost forever.
How Much Does a Whistleblower Attorney Cost?
Attorneys who practice whistleblower law are paid via a contingency fee. The client pays no money up front and the attorney is paid a percentage of what is recovered in the case.
Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
Due to the complexity of whistleblower cases, and the likelihood that the employer will hire an army of defense attorneys, you need a law firm that has won big cases in the past that also has the manpower to properly staff the case.
It’s important to keep in mind that simple filing errors and other mistakes can quickly lead to a lost case when whistleblower laws are concerned. It is the job of the attorney to keep the client’s best interests in mind and obtain the best outcome possible for the client. If you have questions about California whistleblower laws or whistleblower cases, contact our office to see how we can help.