In a decision made in May of 2023, California Supreme Court extended whistleblower protection by clarifying what constituted the act of disclosing information to an employer.
The decision was in connection to a complaint filed by a nightclub bartender with the California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. This complaint stated that after the employee complained about unpaid wages, the nightclub’s owner fired her and threatened to report her to immigration officers.
Citing laws prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees for disclosing information about suspected violations, the Labor Commissioner filed an action against the nightclub owner. However, the trial court and court of appeals ruled that a disclosure must carry new information, instead of something the employer already knows.
Disclosing information about possible misconduct is a protected activity, which means employers may land in legal trouble for retaliating against employees who do so. However, the ruling from the two courts generally told that the bartender was not disclosing information because they were complaining about unpaid wages their employer already knew about.
Extending the definition
The decision overruled the court of appeals’ ruling, stating that “disclosure” may also mean sharing information the recipient likely knows already. The court also noted that this broader definition has always applied throughout the law’s history and is in line with the federal protections for whistleblowers.
This decision by the Supreme Court shows how complex the law can be. An employment law attorney can help concerned parties navigate these complexities and understand how they can effectively protect their rights.