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CA appeals court supports broader protection for whistleblowers

We have written previously about how important it is to clearly understand the scope and limitations of the state's "at will" employment laws. A post in May attempted to clarify that while the term at-will suggests that employers can fire a worker without apparent cause, it does not throw the door open wide to arbitrary or retaliatory action.

The fact remains that employees enjoy a wide range of protections under federal and California state law. They prohibit behavior that includes workplace discrimination and wrongful terminations based on age, sex, race, religion, disability and more.

Whistleblowers, too, are granted protections under the law. This is a relatively new area of development, however, and in some instances the reach of the protections is still a matter of some dispute. Where such questions exist, an experienced attorney's help can be critical in providing answers.

The process of clarification is exemplified in a recent decision by the California Court of Appeal. At issue was a woman's claim that she had been fired because, over her employer's objections, she had gone to police to report that she suspected a coworker of stealing her wedding ring.

She claimed her firing was not only wrongful, but represented retaliatory action prohibited under California Labor Code Section 1102.5. A lower court and the appeals court determined that her claims were legitimate, despite her former employer's arguments to the contrary.

The statute in question protects employees who provide information to authorities about suspected illegal activity of any kind. The plaintiff's former employer had sought to dismiss her suit saying that the law was only intended to protect whistleblowing of alleged employer wrongdoing. The argument went that since the alleged crime involved another employee's purported actions the whistleblowing protections didn't apply.

But the courts said the interpretation offered by the defense isn't supported at all by the language of the law. As a result of the decision, damages awarded to the plaintiff were upheld.