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Do California whistleblowers risk losing their jobs?

Los Angeles workers who know or suspect an employer is violating a law have the right to step forward and speak up without fear of jeopardizing their jobs. Retaliation against employees who file these complaints is forbidden by the California Whistleblower Protection Act. Revisions to the Act, which became effective in 2014, added strength to the legislation.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the provisions of the law were expanded to include protection for workers who made reports directly to employers about wrongdoing. In the past, employees had legal protection only when workers reported misconduct to an outside authority.

California companies or anyone acting on an employer's behalf also may not take retaliatory actions against employees who refuse to take part in law breaking activities, and workers who haven't but might report violations.

Whistleblowers can report employers for engaging in state or federal criminal activities or for violating civil regulations. A complaint also may include reports about unsafe work conditions. Employment laws additionally protect employees who provide investigators with information about wrongdoing and testify against an employer.

One legitimate concern many California workers have is the effect of being a whistleblower on future employment. Under state labor laws, employers may not retaliate against workers who have acted as whistleblowers in a previous job.

Employees terminated by employers that ignore whistleblower protection rules may file a claim for reinstatement, plus lost pay and benefits. An employer can face other penalties, including a possible $10,000 civil fine for each violation of the whistleblower law.

Even with the right to report illegal activity or misconduct, workers often hesitate before taking action against an employer. You may not know how an employer would react, how to proceed or where to start. Discussing a claim in confidence with an employment attorney first can be beneficial, since the priority of an employment lawyer is a client's best interests.

Source: State of California, Department of Industrial Relations, "Whistleblowers Are Protected" accessed Mar. 13, 2015

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