What is a Whistleblower and How are Whistleblowers Legally Protected?

What is a Whistleblower and How are Whistleblowers Legally Protected?

A whistleblower reports or participates in an investigation setting forth information that he or she has reasonable cause to believe such information discloses an employer’s violation of or non-compliance with federal and local laws, rules and regulations, or unsafe working conditions or practices. An employee who refuses to participate in an employer’s activity that violates or does not comply with federal and local laws, rules, and regulations is also considered a whistleblower and afforded whistleblower protections.

We know being a whistleblower takes courage. Taking a stand against an employer’s illegal or non-complying activities and practices can have serious repercussions if the employer decides to retaliate against the whistleblower by harming his or her employment. That’s where whistleblower protections come in; under California State and federal law, employers may not retaliate against whistleblowers. To put it simply, whistleblowers are generally covered by federal and state labor laws that prohibit an employer from taking actions that negatively impact a whistleblower’s employment.

California whistleblower retaliation cases and verdicts

The State of California has taken measures to make sure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliatory employers and recent California whistleblower cases suggest that juries want to protect whistleblowers too. See below for details of several recent whistleblower cases.

3/27/18 Jimmy Saxton vs. Hip Hop Beverage Corp. et al.

  • An employee claimed he was fired because he complained of racial harassment.
  • Verdict award: $822,400 (including punitive damages of $750,000.00 and $10,00.00 for emotional distress)

6/6/18 Debra Loveless vs. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.

  • HR employee claimed she was fired for trying to strengthen EEO investigations department.
  • Verdict award: $366,813

4/24/17 Steven Babyak vs. Cardiovascular Systems Inc.

  • An employee claimed he was fired for raising concerns about patients as well as employer’s legal violations.
  • Verdict award: $25M (including punitive damages of $22.4M)

How do you prove whistleblower retaliation?

In order to prove whistleblower retaliation, you will need to link your reporting or cooperation with an investigation to your employer causing harm to your employment. It is important to gather facts to show that your employer intended to harm your employment as punishment. Some circumstances that may help to show an employer’s intent to harm an employee’s career in retaliation for whistleblowing include the following:

  • Employer’s knowledge of the whistleblowing event
  • Negative performance reviews only after the event
  • High reviews prior to the event
  • Treating whistleblower employee differently than the rest of the employees
  • Discipline or termination after or upon knowledge of the event
  • Comments made to employee or coworkers suggesting disapproval of whistleblower activities
  • Changes in treatment and employment conditions after an event, including reassignment to a less desirable position
  • Hostile or disapproving attitude toward the event and/or the whistleblower

Retaliation compensation

Compensation can include financial compensation for lost wages, interest on lost wages, lost future wages, and punitive damages. Punitive damages can be awarded if an officer, director, or managing agent’s conduct was done with malice, oppression, or fraud. In addition to financial recovery, awards may include employment reinstatement, directive to remove negative reports in employment file, and requirement that employer posts a notice acknowledging the retaliation.

Contact our Riverside whistleblower lawyer, if you believe you have been retaliated against for being a whistleblower. If your livelihood has been threatened or harmed because you spoke out against your employer’s illegal or non-complying activities, our attorneys will help to see that you are compensated for your damages.

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