Whistleblower protections encourage employees to report internal issues and strengthen regulatory compliance. It also fosters ethical workplaces and prevents misconduct from going unaddressed.
An employee must follow the organization’s reporting procedures to receive whistleblower protections. These protocols typically include reporting to designated internal personnel and, in some cases, to government agencies.
Many companies conduct internal investigations when they suspect a policy or legal violation. Whether triggered by a government inquiry or internal whistleblower complaints, these internal inquiries can reveal a wide range of misconduct; for example, a company’s accounting department may not record expenses correctly, supervisors are bullying subordinates, or senior executives are receiving kickbacks.
Whether conducted before or after serious wrongdoing, conducting a thorough investigation can help businesses avoid costly and damaging consequences. For example, a bank that self-reports and fully cooperates with a federal government investigation will likely receive “cooperation credit,” which can reduce the civil or criminal penalties it must pay.
The scope of an internal investigation should be carefully outlined at the outset. For instance, if documents archived on offsite servers are unlikely to be relevant to the investigation, bringing in additional investigators and incurring the cost of retrieving those records will probably not be worth it.
In addition, counsel should understand when it is appropriate to notify government entities of the results of an internal investigation and when such notification would violate the law. For instance, the Whistleblower Protection Act of California is in the California Government Code. The WPA is designed to protect state employees who report improper governmental activities. Improper governmental activities include actions that violate laws, rules, or regulations and pose a risk to public health, safety, or funds.
Retaliation against employees who expose illegal conduct is a serious issue for workers. Employees who file retaliation complaints may be eligible for compensation. To prove retaliation, employees must show that their protected activity led to the adverse employment action against them. This is usually done through direct evidence, such as emails or witness testimony. However, indirect evidence can also be used to establish a claim. For example, if your boss regularly admonishes you and passive-aggressively questions your dedication to the company, you could have a retaliation case.
In addition, keeping records of all interactions with your employer is essential. Whether you are discussing workplace issues with HR, filing a whistleblower complaint, or simply addressing an issue with your supervisor, it is essential to document all of the details. Keep all documents, including pay stubs, written notices, and conversation notes. This will provide a clear record of any retaliatory actions against you.
Workplace retaliation can take many forms, but it often comes as an unfair performance review or your boss micromanaging your work. Other examples include being forced to work a shift that will negatively impact your personal life, such as if you have childcare responsibilities or need to travel for your job.
Whistleblower laws have risen because they provide essential protections and incentives for employees to report corporate wrongdoing. The Attorney General can bring an action against a business for violating these laws. However, businesses must carefully consider their procedures and policies to ensure compliance. For example, the new statute requires that “authorized personnel,” such as supervisors and HR managers, receive training on handling whistleblower complaints. This is especially important given that the law extends retaliation protection to internal whistleblowers.
This finding aligns with the legislature’s objective of encouraging more reporting of illegal activities to a business’s management and government agencies.
Another option for employees who have exhausted internal reporting options or believe that they need to be not hearing them is external reporting. These can be to government agencies that oversee specific types of misconduct, such as the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). Employees who report externally should be sure to follow up on their complaints with the agency to ensure it is being adequately investigated.
Litigation involves the use of the court system to resolve rights-based disputes. Litigation is often considered a matter of taking someone to court, but it also includes other court-like processes such as arbitration and administrative hearings. A key element of litigation is the discovery process, which involves a formal and regulated exchange of information between the parties.
In civil law, a plaintiff (the person with a legal complaint) starts the litigation process by filing a lawsuit in court and establishing personal jurisdiction over the defendant (the person against whom they seek compensation). During the lawsuit, both parties must prove their side of the story on a “balance of probabilities,” which is a lesser bar than in criminal proceedings where facts must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
A lawsuit can end with a verdict; the judge typically orders the plaintiff compensation. But, litigation only sometimes leads to a verdict; many cases are settled out of court.
Whistleblower law forbids retribution against state and local government employees and employees of other publicly supported groups for reasonable faith allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse. It also protects those who participate in investigations and hearings on whistleblower allegations. To avoid retaliation under the law, employers need to familiarize themselves with this legislation and seek the advice of a licensed attorney.