Employers can encounter many different types of whistleblowers in their daily operations. Most people imagine the classic example of a low-level employee who alerts federal authorities to embezzlement, fraud, or other white collar crimes. But these types of blatant offenses are increasingly rare. Whistleblowers can bring attention to a wide variety of far more subtle violations. These can all expose the unprepared employer to legal liability, poor public relations, and other damaging consequences.
Whistleblowers have rights under both state and federal law. The California Labor Code prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report a violation of the law to government authorities. Similarly, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act also prohibits retaliation against employees who report violations of the Act. Employers who do not appropriately respond to whistleblower complaints may therefore face both state and federal liability – in addition to administrative consequences (such as the loss of a business license) and bad publicity.
The Latest Hot Button Issue: Transgender Rights
Transgender rights has been a frequent topic of media attention in recent years. As of July 1, 2017, California employment law now offers many workplace protections for transgender employees. The California Chamber of Commerce reports that use of a new name, gender pronouns, and dress and grooming are all protected as gender expression. Gender identity is also protected through the use of bathrooms and locker rooms, as well as the labelling of these facilities with gender-neutral terms. Gender protections have also been expanded to employees who are in the process of a gender transition. Many of these same rights are afforded to employees who have not yet completed their gender transition. Employers are further prohibited from seeking any documentation from applicants or employees pertaining to the gender they were assigned at birth.
Employees who report violations of these rights are afforded certain protections, and in this respect, it is important for employers to address the allegations seriously and treat the employee with the due care of any other whistleblower. Failure to do so caused the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to face a particularly grisly lawsuit filed by one aggrieved prison psychologist. According to the Sacramento Bee, Dr. Lori Jespersen alleges that the Department illegally retaliated against her for reporting mistreatment of gay and transgender inmates at a DCR facility in Vacaville. The retaliation included locking her in a housing unit with a convicted rapist. Dr. Jespersen also alleges that the guards attempted to provoke the inmates to commit violence against her. Among other charges, she is suing the Department for subjecting her to a hostile work environment; illegal retaliation against her; and violating state whistleblower protection laws.
Dr. Jespersen’s case in an example of just how much liability employers can face when they fail to appropriately respond to employee complaints – especially those protected by whistleblower laws. Appropriately addressing whistleblower complaints is a challenging task for any employer. Consult with an experienced California employment law attorney to ensure that both your company and your employees are protected.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
CA prison doctor alleges mistreatment of transgender inmates, August 15, 2017 by Adam Ashton, The Sacramento Bee
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