July 12, 2018 Category: Whistleblowing
Whistleblower laws protect employees who report illegal or unethical conduct in the workplace. Under these laws, you cannot be fired, harassed, or the victim of discrimination for revealing unsavory business practices. However, the California Court of Appeals just made it very clear that all workplace complaints will not necessarily be protected “whistleblowing.” Before you start complaining about your employer, you will want to make sure that their actions are illegal, unethical, or fraudulent. The fact that you disagree with your employer’s practices won’t be enough to protect your job if you speak out.
What is Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is a term used to describe employees who expose business practices that are in violation of the law, unsafe, or dangerous. The state believes that it is important to encourage employees to speak out about harmful workplace conditions. However, employees may be hesitant to speak out for fear of retaliation. Federal and state whistleblower laws protect individuals who step forward or file a complaint.
There are several federal and state whistleblower protections in place. As an employee, you may enjoy protections under some or all of the following regulations.
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act offers protections for employees of publicly-traded companies. The Act contained anti-retaliation provisions that prevent employers from taking adverse actions when an employee submits a complaint to the SEC.
California Labor Code 6310
Section 6310 of California’s Labor Code protects employees who file complaints with OSHA. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees for engaging in any of the following behaviors:
- Making an oral or written complaint to the Division of Occupational Health and Safety or supportive agency
- Caused a legal proceeding involving the employer to begin
- Testify in any legal proceeding involving the employer
- Reporting a workplace injury, illness, or fatality
- Reporting safety violations or dangerous workplace conditions.
Discrimination includes firing, demoting, suspending, or taking other adverse employment action.
California Labor Code 1102.5
Section 1102.5 of California’s Labor Code protects employees who report suspected violations of the law to the government. Employees must have a reasonable belief to believe there has been a violation of state or federal law.
All Complaints May Not Be Protected
The California Court of Appeals recently explained that all workplace complaints will not be protected under state whistleblower law. The decision came after a LabCorp technician filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against her employer. According to the technician, test results indicated that a patient’s fetus had down syndrome. However, the physician failed to relay the results to the patient in a timely manner. As a result, the patient had very limited options for her pregnancy. She was essentially forced to carry the child to term.
The doctor ordered the technician to alter the medical records. The records were not to have any mention of the test results prior to the doctor’s conversation with the patient. The technician argued with superiors about this request. She explained that altering records was wrong and that she could be vulnerable to a lawsuit if the patient ever found out. Executives forced the technician’s hand and she altered the records. Shortly after this exchange, she was fired from the company.
The technician argued that she should not have been fired because she was trying to expose illegal activity. She explained that altering medical records is a misdemeanor. However, the court of appeals disagreed. It said that she was simply asked to alter “non-medical” information, which is not a crime. Since the technician was not reporting an actual violation, but rather a practice with which she strongly disagreed, she was not protected by state whistleblower law.
Get Help If You’ve Been the Victim of Retaliation
If you know that your company is engaging in illegal or dangerous practices, you have the right to speak out. Your employer cannot retaliate against you. If you exposed your employer and were subsequently fired or suspended, you may have a claim for unlawful retaliation. Our San Jose whistleblower attorneys can help you fight to protect your rights. Call us today to schedule a free case assessment.