Is Your Employer Engaged in Unlawful Behavior?

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Q. My employer is engaging in behavior which, I believe, is against the law. I feel obligated to say something but am afraid of losing my job. What are my rights?

A. California law protects employees who disclose information that the employee reasonably believes vio

lates the law. This protected activity is re- ferred to as “whistleblowing.”

There are several whistleblower laws under California law that may apply de- pending on your specific industry, the nature of your whistleblowing activity, or whether your employer is public or private.

In general, in order to qualify as a whistleblower, you need to have a reason- able belief that the activity you are report- ing either: (i) violates state or federal law; (ii) does not comply with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation; or (iii) cre- ates unsafe working conditions or work practices.

Employees are protected if the disclosure was made to either: (i) a government or law enforcement agency; (ii) a person with authority over the employee; or (iii) another employee with authority to inves- tigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance. California law also pro- tects employees who testify before a public body regarding the unlawful activity.

Employers are prohibited from sub- jecting the employee to an adverse em- ployment action due to the disclosure. An adverse employment action is an ac- tion that materially affects the terms and conditions of employment and includes termination or demotion.

The whistleblower protection extends to instances where your employer takes an adverse employment action against you on its belief that you have disclosed or may disclose such information, even where the disclosure has not occurred.

You are also protected under Califor- nia’s whistleblower laws if you refuse to participate in an activity that you reason- ably believe is unlawful.

Further, an employer may not retaliate against you for whistleblowing activity which you engaged in at any former place of employment.

Notably, these protections do not ap- ply in instances where the information disclosed violates the attorney-client privi- lege or the physician-patient privilege or disclosures of trade secret information.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is generalized and not for purposes of providing legal advice. You should speak to an attorney to obtain advice regarding your particular circumstance.

Bobby Shukla represents individuals in employment law matters. She can be reached at (415) 986-1338.

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