Assembly Bill 1947: California Courts Will Award Attorney Fees To Whistleblowers Starting in 2021
In California, most government agencies, as well as the legislators, work hard to protect employees’ rights in every way possible. For example, there are already numerous specific laws aimed at preventing employers from retaliating against employees in a protected class or employees who report their employers’ violations of law. The latter are known as “whistleblowers”. One of these laws is California Labor Code Section 1102.5, which protects employees who disclose certain violations of law by their employer to the government or third parties, in order to right wrongs in the workplace.
On September 30, 2020, Governor Gavin Newson signed Assembly Bill 1947 into law, which took effect January 1, 2021 and amended Labor Code section 1102.5. Assembly Bill No. 1947 states that all whistleblowers who face retaliation from their employer and successfully bring retaliation claims in court are entitled to reimbursement of their attorney fees from the retaliatory employer.
In this blog, we will explain the difference between the existing statute and the recently signed Assembly Bill.
Existing Protections Under Labor Code Section 1102.5
Under section 1102.5, generally employers and any individuals acting on behalf of employers cannot prevent an employee from:
- disclosing information about the employer to a law enforcement agency; the government; or any person, including another employee, with the ability to act on the information provided;
- testifying in front of a public body about those violations; or
- refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a statute or regulation.
Additionally, after employees testify or otherwise lawfully disclose the employer’s information about those violations, employer representatives have no right to retaliate against the employees. Unlawful retaliation includes, but is not limited to, termination of employment. If an employer retaliates when the employer believes that the employee may report unlawful activity – but has not yet done so – that type of retaliation is unlawful under 1102.5.
Penalties Under Section 1102.5
Section 1102.5 has always stated that an employer or their representatives who violate this law could be subject to penalties in the form of compensatory damages to the employee, including lost earnings, emotional distress damages, or even punitive damages. Also, the section provided for a social penalty, not to exceed $10,000 per violation, against the employer, in addition to the other penalties. However, until 2021, the Section did not provide attorney fees for victims who prove those violations.
Assembly Bill 1947 amended section 1102.5 to give the courts an option to award reasonable attorney’s fees to a plaintiff who has brought a successful action for violation of the section’s provisions. As a result, whistleblower plaintiff attorneys may be more motivated to take these cases, and employers should expect more employees to file retaliation lawsuits, with additional damage claims, in the future.
Contact Us for More Information
If you have any questions on Assembly Bill No. 1947 or believe you may have a whistle blower claim against your employer, contact the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APC to speak with a Cathedral City employment attorney for employees.