Speaking out against wrongdoing and injustice that everyone else seems to be ignoring takes courage, and if the wrongdoing is taking place at your place of employment, you cannot expect your coworkers and work supervisors to treat you like a hero for telling the truth. Employers have been known to retaliate against employees, making their lives at work more difficult, or even firing them, as punishment for lesser, but equally justifiable, activities, such as filing a workers’ compensation claim or requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability. California law encourages employees to report misconduct that they witness in the workplace to report the misconduct to the relevant parties. The law protects you from retaliation by your employer for acting as a whistleblower and reporting violations at your place of employment. If you know that your employer is defrauding the public, creating unsafe work conditions, or engaging in some other kind of egregious misconduct, contact the Irvine whistleblower claims lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Protected Actions, Retaliation, and Employment Law in Irvine
In employment law, a protected characteristic is one that your employer cannot use as a basis to mistreat you; examples of protected characteristics include race, religion, gender, disability, and age. Likewise, a protected action is something you have the legal right to do, and no matter how much the action inconveniences your employer, the employer does not have the right to take an adverse action against you because of it. Examples of adverse actions include unfairly negative performance reviews, involuntary transfers, and termination of employment. Some examples of protected actions include filing a workers’ compensation claim, requesting a family or medical leave under FMLA, and missing work to take a child to a doctor’s appointment or meet with your child’s teacher. If an employer takes adverse action against you as punishment for engaging in a protected action, it is employer retaliation, which is against the law.
Whistleblower claims encompass several types of protected actions. If you report any of the following actions by your employer to law enforcement or a relevant regulatory body, it is a whistleblower action:
- A violation of a federal or state law
- Failure to comply with a federal or state regulation
- Unsafe working conditions
It is also considered a whistleblower action if your employer instructs you to do something that violates a law or regulation, and you refuse to do the task, even if you do not report the incident to regulators.
Employers must display posters in the workplace informing employees about the sections of the California Code that deal with whistleblower protections. The poster must indicate the phone number of the whistleblower hotline at the California State Attorney General’s Office. Hiring a lawyer before you contact the whistleblower hotline is not a requirement, but it can help to discuss matters with a lawyer before you initiate the whistleblower action. If you have witnessed conduct at your workplace that would warrant a whistleblower claim, contact the Irvine whistleblower claims lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
The California Whistleblower Protection Act
Pursuant to the California Whistleblower Protection Act, the Office of the State Auditor has the task of investigating claims made by whistleblowers about misconduct by state employees. While the State Auditor is responsible for investigating the allegations made by the whistleblowers, it does not provide remedies for state employees who experience retaliation by their employers as a result of their whistleblower claims.
Meanwhile, the California Labor Code provides remedies for whistleblowers who have suffered employer retaliation. These remedies include payment of lost wages and reinstatement of the employee’s job and the benefits associated with it, among other remedies. Where you should report employer retaliation depends on the nature of your employment:
- State employees should report retaliation to the State Personnel Board
- Employees of the University of California system should report retaliation to the human resources departments at their respective campuses
- Employees of California State University should report retaliation to the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources
Qui Tam Actions and the Federal False Claims Act
The law protects whistleblowers who report misconduct by public and private sector employers. Additionally, the federal False Claims Act deals specifically with whistleblower claims about employers who defraud the federal government. The False Claims Act went into effect in 1863, as an effort by President Lincoln’s administration to protect the federal government from financial losses caused by vendors who sold goods to the U.S. military inflating the prices of their products.
Today, some of the most common kinds of fraud that harm the public treasury are Medicare fraud and Medicaid fraud, where doctors and other healthcare providers bill these publicly funded programs for services they did not provide to eligible patients, or who perform medically unnecessary tests and order unnecessary medical devices in order to bill Medicare and Medicaid for them. Healthcare fraud is a crime, so some of these providers have gotten criminal charges for their actions.
When a whistleblower reports that their employer has made false claims to the federal government for the employer’s own financial gain, the government files a lawsuit against the employer and adds the whistleblower as a plaintiff. This is called a qui tam action because the whistleblower is filing the lawsuit on behalf of themselves (“qui tam” means “on behalf of himself” in Latin) as well as on behalf of the federal government. If the court rules in favor of the government, then the whistleblower is entitled to a percentage of the damages awarded.
A whistleblower claims lawyer can help you whether you work for the public or private sector, a whistleblower claims lawyer can help you protect your rights. The procedures can be complicated, so a lawyer can help you figure out where to report your claim and what to do next.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Whistleblower Claims in Irvine
HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you file a whistleblower claim about misconduct at your workplace. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Irvine, California to set up a consultation.