Growing up, many people learn that no one likes a tattle-tale. A tattle-tale often simply wants to get someone else in trouble. However, there are times when reporting bad behavior is the most appropriate course of action. This is not always an easy decision, especially if the bad behavior is occurring in the workplace.
Blowing the whistle on someone whose actions are illegal, unethical or dangerous can be in the best interests of many people, including you as an individual, the company you work for or society as a whole. Nevertheless, whistleblowing can be risky, so there are laws protecting from retaliation those who report such activity. If you have taken steps to blow the whistle at your job, you would be wise to learn how those laws can protect you.
Retaliation and your rights
California and federal laws protect employees from retaliation if they have reported wrongdoing in the workplace. This may include reporting to the proper authorities an employer who persists in sexual harassment or discrimination, a company that repeatedly violates environmental protection laws, a business owner who practices wage theft or misclassification of employees, or a supervisor who violates safety standards at the risk of workers. If you have reported these or other actions, you may face retaliation such as:
- Threats or intimidation from your employer or co-workers
- Blacklisting that prevents you from finding similar work with other companies
- Denial of your rightful employment benefits
- A demotion or reassignment to a less desirable position or location
- Work assignments that impede your chances of promotion or advancement
- A reduction in your hours or pay or the denial of the opportunity for overtime
- Discipline for actions that are acceptable for other employees
Your employer may have fired you, giving other excuses to cover up the fact that the termination was retaliatory. Cover-ups are often what make it challenging to pursue cause for retaliation, and it may take a skilled professional with legal resources to build a strong case.
If you believe your employer has retaliated because you blew the whistle, you must be able to prove that the actions you took fall under those protected by whistleblower laws. You must also demonstrate that your employer knew or suspected that you were the one who blew the whistle and responded with retaliation against you because of your whistleblowing. The whistleblowing process and its aftermath can be complex and risky, and it is wise to have solid legal guidance every step of the way.