Whistleblower Law in California

This webpage describes California’s whistleblower law. What type of complaints are protected? You will find out by carefully reading the below information. The goal of this page is to give non-lawyers an idea of what behavior is legal and what is illegal. If you believe you’re being retaliated against for blowing the whistle, however, we highly recommend that you call an employment lawyer for a free consultation. Reading a webpage is no substitute for actually speaking with an experienced whistleblower attorney.

This educational video was made by an attorney Mr. Odell went to law school with. It gives a great overview of California whistleblower law.

Below you will find details regarding the following:

  • Whistleblower law generally
  • Reporting a violation of law
  • Refusing to violate the law
  • Whistleblowing on unsafe patient care or conditions
  • Reporting false claims made to the government
  • What can you recover in a whistleblower lawsuit?
  • What is the statute of limitations in whistleblower cases?
  • What is the difference between a whistleblower, retaliation, and wrongful termination?
  • How does a whistleblower lawyer get paid?
  • When should you hire an attorney?

California’s Whistleblower Law Generally

At its basic level, California’s whistleblower law tries to protect an employee who reports their company for committing a violation of law. It also protects someone who refuses to participate in a violation of law while at work. If a corporation fires an employee because he or she does one of these things, the employee may file a whistleblower lawsuit in attempt to recover monetary damages.

Blowing the Whistle on a Violation of Law

A corporation is not allowed to retaliate against an employee for reporting company violations of law to a government or law enforcement agency. Nor may a corporation retaliate against an employee for providing information demonstrating violations of law to, or testifying before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry. This is California’s main whistleblower law and can be found here: California Labor Code § 1102.5(b). This law reflects CA’s “broad public policy interest in encouraging workplace whistleblowers to report unlawful acts without fearing retaliation.”[1]

Refusing to Violate the Law

California’s main whistleblower statute also includes a provision that states: “An employer… shall not retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute….”[2]

This wonderful snippet of law bars your employer from firing you if you refuse to do something that you believe is illegal. To establish a prima facie case of retaliation you must show you engaged in a protected activity, and then your employer fired you because you engaged in that protected activity. You must show that the employer was motivated to terminate you because you refused to do the illegal act.

Blowing the Whistle on Unsafe Patient Care or Conditions

Patient safety is paramount to most health care workers. But some doctors, hospitals, and nurses put profit over people and disregard basic patient safety rules and procedures. California Health & Safety Code § 1278.5 makes it illegal to fire an employee for complaining about patient safety or unsafe patient conditions.

This law establishes a “rebuttable presumption” that the employer unlawfully retaliated against an employee if management knew that the employee filed a grievance or complaint about healthcare flaws and the employer fired the employee “within 120 days of the filing of the grievance or complaint.”[3] That is a powerful presumption that assists whistleblowers tremendously.Whistleblower Attorney | Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer

Blowing the Whistle on False Claims Made to the Government

Many healthcare organizations are paid by Medicare, the federal health insurance program. Basically, when a hospital or doctor submits an invoice to Medicare, they are asking the government to pay their bill. But sometimes doctors and hospitals submit false bills to Medicare. Employees of these doctors and hospitals who find out about the false claims can blow the whistle.

This law does not apply only to hospitals and doctors, but to any company that submits false bills to the government. This powerful law is called the False Claims Act. These lawsuits take the form of Qui Tam, where the employee recovers a portion of the money the government recoups from the corporation. Historically, some Qui Tam lawsuits have been in the billions of dollars.

What Can You Recover in a Whistleblower Lawsuit?

There are various remedies. The company may be ordered to pay you reimbursement for lost wages and benefits.[4] You may also recover emotional distress damages (the mental pain and suffering caused by the termination). Your employer may also be required to pay a civil penalty of $10,000 for each violation.[5] If your employer behaved extremely bad and your legal team convinces the jury they acted with oppression, fraud, or malice, you may win punitive damages in a whistleblower suit. This is extremely difficult.

Finally, in Qui Tam False Claim cases, you may earn a portion of what the government recovers from your employer. This ranges from 15% to 50%.[6] Therefore, if the suit recovers $1,000,000 from your employer, you could reap between $150,000 and $500,000 for blowing the whistle.

How much are you likely to win? Well that is impossible to answer. There is very little to zero published data on settlements because they are confidential. According to one publication, in whistle blower cases, plaintiffs won 63% percent of the time with a median verdict of $540,000. But nobody should every expect to earn the median because every case is vastly different and there are hundreds of significant variables at play.

We’ve written an entire blog on whistleblower rewards that dives into detail on what you can recover in a whistleblower lawsuit.

What is the Statute of Limitations in CA Whistleblower Case?

If you are filing a lawsuit under Labor Code § 1102.5 or Health & Safety Code 1278.5 employees have three years to sue for violations.[7] But they only have one year if your suit is for civil penalties.[8] A qui tam lawsuit under CA’s False Claims Act must be filed within six years of the violation.[9] But on all fronts we highly recommend that you speak with an employment lawyer when investigating statues of limitations. If you make a mistake, your case is lost forever.

What is the Difference Between a Whistleblower Case, Retaliation Case, and Wrongful Termination Case?

Under California law, a whistleblower case involves refusing to violate laws, reporting to governmental agencies, complaining about patient safety, and trying to recover money on behalf of the government.[10] A retaliation case involves discrimination or harassment, filing a complaint with a governmental agency about harassment or discrimination, or reporting patient abuse under the penal code.[11] A wrongful termination case involves employer acts that violate public policy. Wrongful termination was created by case law whereas retaliation and whistleblowing were created by legislative statute.

How Much Does a Whistleblower Lawyer Cost?

Whistleblower lawyers who represent plaintiffs are paid with a contingency fee. This means the lawyer is paid a percentage of whatever you recover in your case. So if the lawyer charges 40% of your gross earnings, and you settle for $300,000, the lawyer would get paid $120,000. You do not pay the lawyer out of pocket. The attorney only gets paid if they recover money for you. Attorneys who work under the contingency model usually front the case costs for you. That means they pay money out of pocket to litigate your case, and they recover those expenses when the case settles.

When Should You Hire an Attorney in a Whistleblower Case?

The sooner the better. Experienced lawyers know that whistleblower cases can be incredibly valuable if worked up properly. The earlier you contact a lawyer the better. Most employment lawyers like this office offer employees free consultations. That means it doesn’t cost you a dime to call our office. We encourage you to call our Los Angeles office as soon as possible.

[1] Green v. Ralee Engineering Company

[2] Labor Code § 1102.5(c)

[3] Health & Safety Code § 1278.5(d)(1)

[4] Labor Code § 98.6(b)

[5] Labor Code § 1102.5(f)

[6] CA Government Code § 12652(g)(2)-(3).

[7] Code of Civil Procedure § 338(a), governing suits for “liability created by statute”

[8] CCP § 340(a), governing suits for “penalty or forfeiture”

[9] CA Government Code § 12654(a)

[10] Labor Code § 1102.5; Health & Safety § 1278.5; and CA Government Code § 12650, et seq.

[11] CA Government Code § 12940(h); CA Penal Code § 11161.8