Retaliation & Whistle-Blowing
Although most terminations are not unlawful (due to the “at will” doctrine addressed in the Wrongful Termination section), an employer cannot terminate or otherwise retaliate against an employee for reporting a violation of a legally-recognized public policy. These scenarios are quite limited, however, because the definition of a legally-recognized public policy, itself, is quite limited.
Not all conduct about which an employee complains involves a legally-recognized public policy. As a matter of law, retaliation or whistle-blowing claims may only arise from conduct which violates a law that has been enacted for a public cause. (Note: Not all violations of law are enacted for public causes.) Generally, complaining about internal matters that only affect the employer, and not the general public, do not normally give rise to claims for retaliation or whistle-blowing.
Examples of Conduct That May Give Rise to Viable Retaliation Claims:
- Retaliation against an employee who has reported sexual harassment or other legally-recognized harassment or discrimination;
- Retaliation against an employee for filing a complaint with (or who otherwise discloses information to) a government or law enforcement agency (Example: Filing a complaint with the Labor Board or disclosing information to the Labor Board during the investigation of another employee's complaint);
- Retaliation against an employee because he/she has complained internally about not receiving overtime pay, proper rest breaks or lunches, wages or generally any other wage & hour related matter;
- Retaliation against an employee because he/she has or intends to file a worker's compensation claim.
The above examples illustrate the types of conduct which may give rise to claims for Retaliation and Whistle-Blowing. Keep in mind, these examples are not all-inclusive. There are other circumstances which may protect you from retaliation.
A claim for retaliation or whistle-blowing generally gives rise to the following damages: Compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and, in some case, reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees and costs.