Refusing to Break the Law | Whistleblower Retaliation
It’s a sad fact of life, but many employers tend to look at the bottom line before anything else — even before considering their legal obligations and the well being of their employees. Sometimes employers ask their employees to do illegal activities. In California, state law protects employees who refuse to violate the law at the behest of their employers. The law also prevents employers from retaliating against workers who refuse to violate the law.
This page was designed to offer some information on one of California’s most powerful whistleblower protections, California Labor Code § 1102.5. Continue reading to learn more about the following topics:
- Whistleblower Basics
- Whistleblower Retaliation
- What Can I Recover in a Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit?
- How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?
- Should I Contact An Employment Lawyer?
It’s important to keep in mind that while this page discusses subjects related to employment law, nothing contained here is intended as a substitute for speaking directly with a qualified employment attorney. If you feel you were retaliated against after refusing an employer’s order to violate the law, contact our office to see how we can help.
An employee becomes a whistleblower when he or she calls attention to work place violations of law. Qualifying violations can range anywhere from to unsafe workplace conditions, unsafe patient care of conditions, refusing to violate the law (that is what this page is about), and reporting false financial information. In California, whistleblowers are covered by multiple laws that prevent employers from retaliating in response to employees who have engaged in whistleblowing activities. This page focuses on Labor Code 1102.5.
Under this law, workers are even protected if they refuse to carry out company policies they believe are a violation of law. Continue reading to learn more about how California protects employees against whistleblower retaliation as well as some specific information about labor code 1102.5.
California labor code § 1102.5 is commonly viewed as one of the state’s primary whistleblower laws, and makes it illegal for any employer to prevent an employee from disclosing information to the government or other authority regarding violations of law. Subsection (b) of the law makes it illegal to retaliate against an employee for disclosing workplace violations to the authorities. Meanwhile, subsection (c) of the law states that an employer “shall not retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute…” Subsection (d) makes it illegal for an employer to “retaliate against an employee for having exercised his or her rights under subdivision (a),(b) or (c).”
A hypothetical situation of how a lawsuit might come to be filed under labor code 1102.5 could unfold as follows:
A driver for a struggling waste management company is asked by his supervisor to conceal a small load of toxic waste in with a truckload of household waste, then take the load to the county dump. The driver knows the company is struggling, and that the supervisor wants to avoid paying the higher fees required to dispose of hazardous waste in a special facility. The driver also knows state law requires hazardous waste to be disposed of in a special facility.
The driver informs the Human Resources Manager of his concerns and is told not to worry. Soon after, the driver is told the company is going to outsource work to independent drivers and his job is eliminated. The now former driver believes the reason given for his termination is merely a pretext, and that the real reason he was fired was because he called attention to the company’s illegal practices. He personally knows other drivers for the company who continue to be employed following his termination. The driver could have a solid reason to file a whistleblower lawsuit under these circumstances.
It’s important to remember that this is only one example of how a whistleblower lawsuit might come to be filed under 1102.5. There are countless other potential situations depending on the company and the industry. If you feel you have been the victim of retaliation because you refused to break the law at work, contact our office to see how our employment attorneys can help.
What Can I Recover in a Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit?
This question can be difficult to answer. Cases that settle are not subject to disclosure, and therefore little public data exists on settlements. However, in cases that go before a jury, are publicly disclosed. Every case is different. The Bohm Law Group has had astounding success litigating whistleblower cases. Our results speak for themselves. But even besides BLG, whistleblowers can have success. Click this link to read about a public employee in Oakland who blew the whistle on her employer and was awarded more than $600,000 by a jury.
In addition to lost wages, the worker could be rewarded damages for pain and suffering. This could include depression, anxiety, muscle aches, migraines, and other ailments. In some cases, the employer may be required to pay civil penalties of $10,000 per violation.
Finally, in extreme cases the worker will win punitive damages. These are imposed to ensure that the employer never engages in the anti-whistleblowing behavior again. However, the worker’s attorney must convince the jury that the employer acted with fraud, oppression, or malice. This is very difficult to do, and punitive damages are rare.
How Much Does an Lawyer Cost?
Employment lawyers representing plaintiffs who sue under labor code 1102.5 are typically paid with a contingency fee. In other words, the lawyer representing the client is paid a percentage of the damages recovered. The client does not typically pay the attorney out of pocket.
Should I Contact an Employment Lawyer?
While a whistleblower who wishes to file suit against a former employer under labor code 1102.5 is not required to obtain the services of a lawyer, it is recommended that they do. It is almost certain that the employer will have an attorney, if not multiple attorneys.
In addition, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible following a termination or retaliatory incident. In many cases, the statute of limitations is a consideration. It’s important to remember that once the statute of limitations runs out, your case can be lost forever.
Employment law is subtle, complex, and requires the critical mind of an expert who has some distance from the case. If you refused to violate the law at the direction of an employer, or you have more questions about labor code 1102.5, contact our office to see how we can help. There is no charge to speak to one of our attorneys.