What should I do if I have a good faith complaint that my co-workers, supervisors or managers are engaging in unlawful activity in the workplace that causes injury to members of the public or myself in California?

Joel Baruch - Personal Injury - General - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Joel Baruch

Law Offices of Joel W. Baruch, P.C.
Irvine, CA
Phone: 949-864-9662
Fax: 949-851-3185

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Effective Jan. 1, 2014, California’s whistleblower protection law was changed to become one of the strongest in the nation for both private company and public agency employees. This law makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who, with good faith and a reasonable belief, makes an official complaint to their employer about a matter of public concern. 

Generally, after the filing of a court complaint that an employer has adopted a policy or engaged in conduct that is illegal or injures the public at large, that employer will be liable in significant monetary damages for any adverse employment action it takes in retaliation for the complaint. 

What does “good faith” or “reasonable belief” mean? 

This means that your complaint must be in good faith and based on facts of which you are aware, even though you may be wrong about what has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur. For example, if you overheard your boss advise the company’s chief financial officer to designate employees as independent contractors in order to avoid the payment of payroll taxes to the Franchise Tax Board, you would have what is the beginning of a good faith reasonable belief that members of the public — to wit, taxpayers — are being cheated. 

Once you complain through official channels in your organization about this unlawful activity, California’s whistleblower protection law makes it illegal for your employer to discipline you in any manner, including a bad performance evaluation, demotion or something else short of termination. 

What is meant by “a matter of public concern?” 

This means that the subject of your complaint violates some state or federal law, constitutional provision or regulation. For example, if you have good faith and a reasonable belief that a manager in your private company is stealing from the company, and you make that complaint, it is entirely possible that your subsequent complaint might not be protected under California’s whistleblower protection law. 

On the other hand, if you are working as a public employee and you discover that your manager is stealing from the government, then you would be protected under this law from any retaliation under the terms and conditions of your employment for speaking out. 

When can an attorney help? 

My law firm seeks clients who have questions or concerns about whether their employer is doing something unlawful that hurts all of us. Whistleblowers are, by definition, courageous souls who speak up and want to report illegal activity that adversely affects all of us regardless of personal consequences that could result — they deserve the protections afforded by California law. 

Attorneys provide these protections on a contingent-fee basis. An attorney will ensure that your case is strong before agreeing to represent you. California’s law protecting whistleblowers provides for the loss of income damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages against private companies and discretionary attorney’s fees under California’s Private Attorney General doctrine.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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