Imagine working in the same job for many years and then abruptly realizing there are bad deeds happening behind the scene at your workplace, the place where you thought you had built trust and comfort. This was the case for Paul Vandeveld, a firefighter who worked in the fire department since 1990 but realized how quickly an employment opportunity can fall apart when a scandal is involved. Vandeveld exposed wrongdoing in the San Diego fire department and was suspended and denied a promotion to become captain due to workplace retaliation. It all started when pension spiking brought on an investigation, which is a practice where employees are promoted to higher ranks or positions before retirement so that they can collect larger pensions. Vandeveld also leaked said that a colleague in the department was assaulted after he had revealed the city’s pension scandal to reporters. Vandeveld was suspended when it was leaked that he was whistleblowing just for the sake of giving him a bad mark on his record. He was also threatened with firing for taking action against the department. In the end, the jury listened to his side of the story and decided to award him $424,000 after workplace retaliation took place.
What is Whistleblowing?
Perhaps it’s never happened to you, but perhaps it is. You’re working in the same environment for years and you realize that your employer is violating certain laws or regulations – and getting away with it! If your employer is causing danger to public health and safety or condoning overall wrongdoing, you may feel obligated to tell somebody the importance of the situation and what is at risk. However, if you report it, you may be considered a whistleblower. Many people who whistle blow in the workplace are concerned about their employer retaliating against them, and even firing them. However, there are laws in place to protect employees from this. You should know that there are huge differences between whistleblowing and retaliation claims. Whistleblowing solely focuses on conduct that is prohibited that causes damage to public safety, wastes tax dollars, or violates public trust. Retaliation usually focuses on complaints about personal dislikes or issues that affect only one person. If an employer interferes with guaranteed employee rights in illegal ways, then an individual may be looking at a retaliation claim.
What If My Employer Retaliates?
In some cases when a whistleblower comes forward, the courts may conclude that the employer was coaxing the worker to quit or making working conditions intolerable. If you choose to blow the whistle on protected work activity and your employer threatens you with firing, you have a strong case of evidence against that employer. You can tell that retaliation is happening based on how soon the firing happened after the protected activity was spoken about, adverse actions against those who have spoken up, or the usage of false evidence. In California, SB 496 was enacted in 2013 to expand protections for whistleblowers by altering California Labor Code Section 1102.5. Retaliation stemming from whistleblowing is a serious crime. You have rights as a protected employee. Find out what those rights are today and call an attorney that you can trust at The Law Office of Peter Blair.