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California's New Year's Resolution: Stronger Whistleblower Protections

With new laws ringing in 2014, California becomes the latest state to provide greater support to those who speak out on wrongdoing.

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 28, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- California is starting off 2014 with expanded protections for whistleblowers through amendments to California Labor Code Section 1102.5, California's existing whistleblower statute. California's amendments take effect as other states, including Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania, also enact measures designed to support and incentivize insiders who speak out about improper conduct. The trend is clear: to stand by those individuals who stand up to bad behavior.

Effective January 1, employers in California will be prohibited from retaliating against employees who report suspected illegal conduct to company officials, or through internal company channels. Employers are also prohibited from taking so-called 'anticipatory retaliation' -- action against employees based on a belief that they may report suspected improper conduct. California law already protects an employee against retaliation if they report what they believe to be violations of state or federal laws, rules, or regulations by their employer to a government or law enforcement agency.

"With these new provisions in the whistleblower law, California is leading the way for all states heading into 2014," says Jeffrey F. Keller, a founding partner at Keller Grover, a nationally recognized labor and employment law firm, and a veteran whistleblower lawyer. "All through 2013 we saw states recognizing that whistleblowers can be a powerful weapon against fraud. When they speak out, they help us to identify and shut down wrongdoing. These new amendments show California's commitment to shore up existing laws whenever there's a possible gap. The legislative intent is clear – an employee ought to be protected whatever the circumstances are for sounding the alarm."

As amended, Labor Code section 1102.5 will provide for sanctions against those who retaliate against whistleblowers -- including a potential civil fine of up to $10,000 per violation. It will also prohibit retaliation by anyone acting on an employer's behalf, and also give whistleblowers an expanded right to seek redress in the civil courts.

The efforts in California and other states highlight how legislatures across the country are looking at the enormous success of whistleblower laws and programs -- particularly the federal False Claims Act -- and building on them. Since it was modified in the mid-1980s to incentivize whistleblowers -- by awarding them a percentage of any ultimate recovery -- the False Claims Act has facilitated the recovery of more than $34 billion in improperly paid government funds. It has taken on -- and vanquished -- fraud in areas including Medicare and Medicaid, defense spending, pharmaceuticals, and banking.

"What California is doing is sending employers a very clear message," says Keller, whose firm has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. "If they try to intimidate or punish those who want to do the right thing, it's going to be costly, inconvenient, and most importantly, illegal. We want to hear what whistleblowers have to say, and with statutes like these, we're going to make sure they can say it."

For related articles from Keller Grover see

Media Contact: Jeffery Keller, Keller Grover LLP, 866.486.1537, [email protected]

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SOURCE Keller Grover LLP

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