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Whistleblower Retaliation under U.S. Federal and California Law

Employees filed 2,787 whistleblower retaliation claims during 2012, according to a report issued by the U. S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employee protection from whistleblower retaliation is mandated by law in accordance with a number of federal and state statutes designed to encourage whistleblowers to report employer wrongdoing.

Whistleblower protections under federal law

Under federal law, whistleblowers are protected in both the public and private sectors.  For example, the recently enacted Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) provides general whistleblower protection to most federal employees. The Clean Air Act, the Energy Reorganization Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act provide some form of protection to public or private employees who report employer actions that violate one of these statutes.  The Sarbanes-Oxley Act provides statutory protection for employees of publicly traded companies who report violations of federal securities laws.

Whistleblower protections under California Law

Under the California Labor Code, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who blow the whistle on illegal activity in the workplace to a public agency.  In contrast, employees who report illegal activity merely to their employer are generally not protected under California law.

California courts do recognize a common law cause of action for wrongful termination that violates public policy. Despite the fact that California is an at-will employment state (i.e., employers can generally fire employees for no reason), California courts have protected employees who are terminated for making complaints to their employers about reasonable suspicions of violations of laws and regulations.

 A California employment law attorney can help

A whistleblower who wins an employer retaliation claim can recover a wide range of damages and remedies, including job reinstatement, lost wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages.  In some instances, however, mediating your whistleblower retaliation case may be your best option. If you’re a whistleblower who has faced retaliation, you should contact a California employment law attorney to determine the best legal solution for you.

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