In 2022, there were 2,815 reported cases of whistleblowing, most of which were with OSHA. A whistleblower is a person who reports fraudulent, abusive, corrupt, or dangerous activities with an agency, business, or employer. Typically, that whistleblower is an employee or contractor, but it doesn’t have to be. A client, passerby, or person unrelated to a business can be a whistleblower if inappropriate actions or behaviors are witnessed.
There are dozens of whistleblower laws throughout the U.S. In addition to federal laws, there are also state and local whistleblower laws. We’ve compiled a list of California whistleblower laws.
Know the Important Whistleblower Laws in California
Federal laws always apply in California, but there are also laws specific to the state. Explore some of the whistleblower laws that protect California whistleblowers.
Federal employees and job applicants for federal positions are protected from whistleblowing. If the employee found that the federal agency was spending funds in a wasteful manner, violating laws and regulations, endangering the public, or abusing authority, that employee can and should report it. The whistleblower’s right to speak up is protected. Plus, you’re allowed to submit the complaint and request your identity be kept private.
In California, the Attorney General has the authority to bring action against a person or company who lies on documents, applications, or in statements and is caught through the help of whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are allowed to file the complaint with the state and are entitled to any financial recovery. At the same time, the False Claims Act protects the whistleblower from retaliation.
As an example of when this is useful, suppose a company sells a miracle diet pill to California consumers, but an employee of the company has proof that the company knows they’re making false claims. That employee can use the California False Claims Act to stop their employer from lying to consumers.
This is the official California Whistleblowers Protection Act for government workers or officials. Employees working for state agencies or offices are free to report abuse of authority, fraud, legal violations, threats to the public’s health, and government waste.
If a campaign volunteer found that an elected politician was using campaign donations to purchase personal items, the volunteer can report the politician and be protected from retaliation.
Labor Code 1102.5 Privileges and Immunities makes it illegal for an employer or some form of agent for that business or agency from incorporating, creating, or enforcing any rules or policies that keep employees from whistleblowing. This includes whistleblowing to any employees, management, government agencies, and law enforcement professionals during any investigation, inquiry, or court hearing.
It doesn’t matter if the information that an employee shares is part of their job and not meant to be shared. Whistleblower rules enforce the right to provide information against another employee and the company, business, or agency.
An employer cannot punish or retaliate against that employee for whistleblowing. If they do, the employer faces penalties of as much as $10,000 per violation and can be forced to pay the whistleblower’s legal fees.
The Dodd-Frank Act ended bank and financial institution bailouts and protected the nation’s consumers from abusive practices in the financial sector. It was established after the 2007-2008 crash and recession.
One of the aspects of Dodd-Frank is the Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower program. It provides whistleblowers with a financial reward of up to 30% when the whistleblower’s complaint leads to a litigation settlement.
When a major credit card company started using tactics to keep merchants from being able to use their own processing companies to save fees, the Dodd-Frank Act helped the merchants who reported the policies. It led to a finding against the credit card company, thus saving consumers and stores a lot of money on credit card processing fees.
OSHA enforces almost two dozen whistleblowing statutes and protects the whistleblower from retaliation. The range of protections and deadlines for filing are as follows. We’re not including all of the protections as there are so many.
- Anti-Money Laundering (Protects individuals when they report against money laundering and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act) – 90 days
- Clean Air Act (Protects workers who report Clean Air Act violations) – 30 days
- Federal Railroad Safety Act (Protects workers, contractors, subcontractors, and carriers who report intentional railroad safety violations) – 180 days
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (Protects workers and individuals who report OSHA safety and health violations within a workplace) – 30 days
- Solid Waste Disposal Act (Protects employees from retaliation when reporting their company or subcontractor for illegally disposing of waste materials) – 30 days
- Taxpayer First Act (Protects employees, contractors, etc. for whistleblowing about tax fraud) – 180 days
As an example, suppose you work in management for a plastics extrusion company that knows one exhaust fan stopped working and employees are exposed to fumes during their shifts. Workers complain of feeling dizzy or having headaches, but the company’s CEO refuses to pay to have the fan fixed. You could report the violation to OSHA on behalf of the workers. You’re protected as a whistleblower.
How Do You File a Complaint?
You’ve seen something and want to file a complaint. How do you do that? It comes down to what you saw. OSHA takes whistleblower complaints for more than 20 acts. If you need to report what you witnessed to OSHA, you can do it online, by phone, by mail/fax/email, or in person. If you want to go in person, find your local OSHA office here and schedule an appointment.
California’s workers should start with the California State Auditor and fill out the online Whistleblower Complaint form. You can also reach the California State Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline by mail or phone. Find the phone number and address at Auditor.ca.gov/hotline.
Our best advice is to start with the expertise of an attorney specializing in employment law and whistleblowing laws. By having an attorney by your side, you’ll better understand the laws that apply to your situation and the next steps to take. It’s also incredibly beneficial to know what information and proof you want to have stored and printed out. The more information and proof you have, the higher the chances of your complaint being successful and stopping bad behavior.
Do not stand by and allow improper, fraudulent, or threatening behaviors to happen. If you witness something at your place of work, a government office, or any other applicable business, speak up. Report it and know you’re protected by whistleblowing laws.
Are you uncertain that what you saw qualifies? Ask a legal expert in whistleblowing and employment laws. It’s better to ask questions and learn that what you saw doesn’t qualify than to let a company, agency, or politician get away with illegal, unethical, or improper behavior.
Shegerian Conniff is here to answer your questions and help you determine the next steps to take. We’ll go over what you saw or heard and give you the professional advice you need as a whistleblower.