How Laws Protect Whistleblowers

David_and_Goliath_-1700sEmployers are expected to act ethically and within the law. Many state and federal laws and regulations mandate how employers should behave toward their employees, their customers, unions, the business community, and the environment. But we know many government and private employers break the law in big and small ways.

As an employee you may not be aware of shortcuts your boss may take to skirt a burdensome legal requirement or even when the officers and managers of the company you work for engage in full-scale illegal behavior. Employers, like any other lawbreaker, take precautions to hide their activities to ensure they do not get caught.

David vs. Goliath

When an employee does learn of his employer’s wrongful conduct, he may not know what to do or be afraid to take steps to expose the unethical practice, fearing he could be demoted, fired, transferred or punished in some other way. An employee may doubt the truth or impact of what she has uncovered and remain silent because she does not want to cause trouble or wrongly accuse her employer.

Such fears and doubts are natural. It is easy to imagine the employee in a David vs. Goliath-type battle, the powerful company looming large over the single, defenseless worker. State and federal governments recognized the risks confronting employees with knowledge of their employer’s illegal acts and enacted so-called Whistleblowers laws to protect workers in these uncomfortable situations.

Bank Fined for Retaliating Against Employees

In the summer of 2016 the media reported that managers at Wells Fargo Bank instituted a policy where they put pressure on employees to open fake bank accounts and fraudulently add services to customers’ accounts without the customer’s knowledge or consent. Many employers rebelled against the practices by calling Wells Fargo’s own “ethics line” to report the activities. Some employees claimed the bank fired them in retaliation for their blowing the whistle on the bank’s unethical policies. Wells Fargo paid $185 million in penalties after admitting it acted wrongly.

What happened to the Wells Fargo employees is exactly what Whistleblower statutes are designed to prevent.

California Whistleblower Law

California’s Whistleblower law prohibits private and public sector employers from retaliating against employees who report violations of state or federal laws, rules, or regulations to a government or law enforcement agency. The employee is not required to prove the violation; he or she need lonely have a reasonable suspicion that the employer has acted or is acting unlawfully.

The law protects employees who report suspected illegal behavior to:

  • A person within the company who has authority over the employee;
  • Another employee of the company who is responsible for investigating, discovering or correcting the violation; or
  • Any public entity outside the company that conducts investigations or hearings

An employee is protected even where disclosing violations of the laws or regulations is part of his or her job responsibilities. Neither employers nor agents or representatives acting on the employer’s behalf may retaliate against an employee who engages in whistleblowing. The employer may not implement or impose a rule or policy that prevents employees from disclosing violations.

An employer who violates California’s whistleblower statute may be ordered to pay penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

When you expose the fraudulent or other illegal activities of your employer, you act bravely and can sometimes suffer as a consequence. You deserve recognition and recompense for your public service. The lawyers at the Brod Law Firm can help you. Call 800-427-7020 today for a free consultation. We work with whistleblowers to ensure they are protected and recover for job loss and other damage they experience. Let us do the same for you. We have offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa (Sonoma).  

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