California Whistleblower Laws
Employees in the state of California who are “whistleblowers,” (that is, they report an illegal, fraudulent or unethical practice of their employer) are protected under both state and federal laws that even allow the ability to anonymously report the fraud or misconduct.
Additional California statutes also contain anti-retaliation provisions. Employees who work at publicly traded companies are covered under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and may file their claim directly with the SEC. Under California’s Labor Code Section 6310, California employees filing a complaint with Cal/OSHA may not be discriminated against for doing so. Discrimination in this context means the employee:
- May not be fired;
- May not be transferred;
- May not be laid off;
- May not be demoted;
- May not be excluded from normal overtime work;
- May not be assigned to a less-desirable shift;
- May not be denied benefits such as sick leave or vacation;
- May not lose any opportunity for overtime or promotion;
- May not have his or her pay or hours reduced;
- May not have company housing removed;
- May not have his or her credit damaged, and
- May not be blacklisted with other employees.
What Types of Whistleblower Cases are Most Common?
By and large, healthcare fraud is one of the most common types of fraud covered under the False Claims Act. Healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers are most likely to have whistleblower actions filed against them for such improper activities as:
- Kickbacks which result in the government paying for unnecessary services;
- Fraudulent billing;
- Duplicate billing;
- Using billing codes to inflate reimbursement;
- Inflating costs;
- Misconstruing the nature of the costs;
- Making false certifications in connection with claims submissions;
- Submitting individual Medicaid or Medicare service codes rather than as a group, and
- Falsifying information related to research programs or grants.
Other common types of whistleblower claims include:
- Contractor fraud (using kickbacks or bribes to win contracts, falsely showing regulatory or statutory compliance);
- Environmental fraud (failure to comply with environmental regulations and statutes);
- Defense contractor fraud (supplying defective weapons, equipment or weapons systems to the armed forces) and
- Violations of Governmental contracts (vendors or contractors who fail to comply with the Trade Agreements Act or other requirements for government contracts)
Are You Entitled to Compensation Under Whistleblower Laws?
Whether you are entitled to compensation if you have been a whistleblower, depends on the nature of the whistleblowing and whether you suffered retaliation. Under the OSHA whistleblower protection program, if OSHA finds evidence which supports the claims of the employee (and no settlement is forthcoming) the agency can order restoration of benefits, reinstatement, back pay and, in some cases, compensation of special damages such as attorneys’ fees. If OSHA fails to issue a final agency order within 180 days from the time the employee files his or her complaint, the employee may proceed with a lawsuit.
Under the False Claims Act, private citizens may bring a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government. If the government recovers money in the lawsuit, the person who brought the lawsuit is entitled to 15-30 percent of the total. The factor which determines whether conduct is covered by the False Claims Act is whether the conduct resulted in the government suffering financial loss.
Can You Refuse to Work in Unsafe Working Conditions?
Under Labor Code Section 6311, workers who refuse to work in unsafe conditions are afforded protection only when the following conditions are properly met:
- You refused to perform regular job duties as a result of a Labor Code violation on the part of your employer or the violation of a Title 8 safety order, and
- The violation(s) would create a hazard to you or to your fellow workers if you continued to work.
California state laws and federal laws protect an employee from being discharged for:
- Refusing to violate a statute;
- Performing a statutory obligation;
- Reporting a statutory violation for the benefit of the public;
- Reporting any alleged violation of federal or state law to a person who has some type of authority over the employee or to law enforcement or a government agency;
- Exercising a constitutional right or privilege.
Call San Jose Whistleblower Claims Attorney Kael Briski Today
If you feel you have suffered retaliatory actions in your employment after reporting a safety violation, or other protected actions, it could be beneficial to speak to a knowledgeable California employment attorney. The whistleblowing laws can be complex, requiring the experience of an attorney who has your best interests at heart and understands your future is at stake.