Public sector employees know some of the government’s most sensitive secrets. They employees may learn of corruption, waste, abuses of power, and other unethical and illegal practices. Employees who want to report this misconduct are often hesitant because they fear what might happen to them.
State and federal law protect government whistleblowers. These whistleblowers serve the vital function of holding our government accountable for abuses of public trust. The laws protecting public sector whistleblowers differ slightly from the laws protecting private sector employees. As a result, government employees need experienced attorneys who can help them navigate the unique requirements that apply to government employees. The attorneys at King & Siegel LLP can help you understand these rights and defend against retaliation. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation with a California whistleblower lawyer.
What Is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an employee who exposes or reports illegal, unethical, or fraudulent activities. They are internal watchdogs who step forward to disclose improper conduct to the public. Whistleblowers are responsible for some of the most shocking revelations about our government. Without them, the public would not be able to hold government officials accountable.
The decision to blow the whistle is a challenging one. Whistleblowers often fear retaliation, job loss, and legal costs.
Understanding Whistleblower Rights
Government employee’s rights differ from the rights of private sector employees. The main distinction between government and private sector is the nature of the work and the entities they serve. Government employees are custodians of public resources and execute public policies. In some ways, government employees have more rights than private sector employees; for instance, they can bring claims for violations of their first amendment rights, while constitutional protections do not apply to private sector workers. On the flip side, government employees are not protected by every statute that protects private sector workers, and the damages available may differ. This is why it is essential that government employees seek knowledgeable counsel.
California and Federal Law Protects Whistleblowers
Several key statutes aim to protect public employees’ whistleblower rights. These laws ensure whistleblowers can report misconduct or illegal activities without fear.
California Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)
The WPA is a key piece of legislation that protects the rights of employees working within the California state government. It offers whistleblower protections for government employees who report improper governmental activities or violations within their agencies or departments.
Key provisions of the California WPA include:
- Protected disclosures. The law encourages reporting concerns internally or to appropriate authorities. It ensures protection from adverse employment actions resulting from these disclosures.
- Prohibitions against retaliation. Employers can’t fire, demote, suspend, harass, or discriminate against whistleblowers provided the whistleblower had a good faith belief that the information shared demonstrates a violation of statutes or regulations.
- Confidentiality. The WPA also includes provisions to maintain the confidentiality of the whistleblower’s identity. This shields them from potential exposure or adverse actions due to their disclosures.
- Access to legal recourse. Employees who face retaliation have access to legal remedies. These include reinstatement, back pay, and other damages. Whistleblowers are also entitled to recover their reasonable attorneys’ fees if they prevail.
The WPA also expands the definition of protected disclosures. It encompasses a wide range of concerns beyond traditional legal violations. Now, employees can report issues like gross mismanagement and abuse of authority.
California False Claims Act (CFCA)
The CFCA is a crucial tool in combating fraud against the government. It allows whistleblowers to file lawsuits that expose false claims made to obtain government funds or property.
Relevant provisions under the CFCA include:
- Qui tam provision. Whistleblowers can file lawsuits on behalf of the government and bring allegations of fraud and false claims. You can learn more about qui tam suits here and here.
- Allegations of fraud. The law has a broad definition of fraud. This includes submitting false invoices, making false statements, or defrauding the government.
- Incentives for whistleblowers. Whistleblowers can receive an award from the funds recovered by the government as a result of the information the whistleblower provided. This provision encourages individuals with knowledge of fraudulent actions to come forward.
- Protection against retaliation. The CFCA protects employees who disclose or investigate suspected fraudulent activities. It shields employees from adverse actions so they can report fraudulent behavior without fear of reprisal.
The CFCA offers more than whistleblower rights for government employees. Private citizens can file a qui tam complaint and get protection under this act.
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA)
Enacted in 2012, the WPEA reinforces and expands whistleblower protections for federal employees.The WPEA offers many of the same remedies that are available under California law. The WPEA encourages accountability and transparency by protecting employees who make good faith disclosures of unlawful conduct.
Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA)
The CSRA, enacted in 1978, is the foundational law governing the federal civil service system. It protects federal employees who disclose violations, malpractice, or unlawful activities. The CSRA helps uphold the integrity of the federal workforce and builds an environment that values ethical concerns.
The Role of an Attorney
You should take steps to protect yourself from retaliation before you file a complaint against your employer. Work with an attorney who understands whistleblower rights for government employees. They will ensure everything is in order and help you defend yourself against retaliation.
Common services offered by whistleblower protection attorneys include:
- Legal counsel. Attorneys can explain your rights and the proper procedures to file a complaint. They will help choose the best course of action to keep you safe before blowing the whistle.
- Protection and advocacy. Lawyers can protect you from retaliatory actions by your employer. They can help you stay anonymous and will defend you against any adverse employment actions.
- Handling the legal process. Whistleblowing can involve intricate paperwork and confusing steps. Attorneys can help file complaints or lawsuits to ensure they follow reporting procedures.
Your attorney’s advice is invaluable. They will ensure your report minimizes risks and maximizes legal protection.
Schedule a Consultation
Our California employment law attorneys at King & Siegel LLP take pride in representing whistleblowers. We have faced some of the biggest government contractors to defend clients who report illegal conduct and false claims. Our lawyers have decades of experience fighting for whistleblower rights for government employees. Call our office today to schedule your case evaluation.