Employees are generally told to follow the policies set forth by their employer and their manager or supervisor. However, if an employer is engaging in unlawful activity, employees have a legal right to refuse to participate, as well as a right to report their employer’s misconduct or unlawful activity, without the fear of retaliation by their employer.
Under California’s Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) and other whistleblower laws, employers may not retaliate against employees who report any of the following forms of misconduct:
- Violation of state or federal laws
- Failure to comply with local, state, or federal regulations
- Unsafe working conditions or practices (e.g., harassment, discrimination)
An employee who refuses to engage in unlawful conduct is also protected under whistleblower laws.
Elements of a whistleblower claim
An employee may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and other benefits if they prove that the employer violated whistleblower laws. The employee bringing the claim must show:
- They were an employee of your employer.
- Their employer took adverse action against you relating to your employment (e.g., wrongful termination of employment, reduction in pay, denial of promotion).
- They engaged in a protected activity.
- A causal connection between the employee’s protected activity and the employer’s adverse actions against the employee.
It can be hard for an employee to stand up against an employer, even if the employer is violating the law. However, not all adverse actions taken against an employee are related to whistleblowing. If an employer can show that the employee’s termination was unrelated to the employee’s engagement in protected activity, they may not be liable for damages. An employment law attorney in your area can review your case and advise you on next steps.