On January 1, 2014, stronger whistleblower protection laws went into effect in California. SB 496, along with two other new laws (SB 666 and AB 263), significantly strengthened and expanded protections for whistleblowers under California Labor Code Section 1102.5, California’s general whistleblower statute.
These laws greatly expand the whistleblower protection that existed, which prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who reported reasonably believed violations of state or federal laws, rules, or regulations to a government or law enforcement agency. The new law includes protection for employees who report suspected illegal behavior internally to “a person with authority over the employee” or another employee with the authority to “investigate” the allegation. Whistleblower protection also covers employees reporting suspected violations to a “public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry.” Significantly, the expanded law granted whistleblower protection to employees who’s job duties include disclosing such information, such as compliance officers.
Additional reforms that strengthened whistleblower protection in California are the anti-retaliation provisions of Labor Code. Previously, these provisions made it unlawful to “discharge an employee or in any manner discriminate against any employee or applicant” for engaging in certain activities protected under the Labor Code. The new law adds a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per employee for each violation of Labor Code and provides that administrative remedies or procedures need not be exhausted to enforce rights. The law also prohibits “anticipatory retaliation” by employers, or any person acting on their behalf, who take adverse action against an employee based on the mere belief that the employee has or might blow the whistle.