California’s whistleblower law encourages companies to comply with employment laws and regulations by rewarding workers who report misconduct and protecting them from retaliation. On May 22, the Supreme Court of California issued a ruling that clarified an ambiguous part of the law. By a unanimous vote, the justices ruled that workers are protected by the provisions of the whistleblower law even when employers or government agencies are already aware of the violations they report.
The case involved a woman who was employed as a bartender at an Orange County nightclub. In 2014, the woman reported to her employer that she had not been paid for three of her shifts. The nightclub owner responded by firing the woman and threatening to report her to the immigration authorities. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement determined that the nightclub had violated several Labor Code provisions, but a trial court and an appeals court ruled that the woman was not entitled to whistleblower protections because her employer already knew that she had not been paid. Based on their interpretation of the language of Californioa’s whistleblower law, these courts determined that protections were only granted to employees who reveal something new.
The Supreme Court of California rules
The Supreme Court of California cleared up any confusion about whistleblower protections when its justices unanimously ruled that section 1102.5(b) of the Labor Code protects workers even when they report misconduct or violations that their employers or government agencies already know about. The ruling brings the California whistleblower law into line with federal laws that protect individuals who report wrongdoing. These laws include the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Whistleblower Improvement Act.
Whistleblower laws are important because they protect workers who have been treated unfairly and encourage employers to comply with state and federal laws. When legislation contains language that is unclear, it is up to the courts to determine what lawmakers intended.