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Employers shouldn’t punish workers who refuse to break the law

On Behalf of | Feb 6, 2024 | Employment Law

The average employee likely doesn’t know much about criminal regulations. Unless someone works in the legal profession, they probably don’t bother to learn much about either California state laws or federal statutes. However, some professionals do learn about the laws that govern the industry in which they operate. Those professionals might find themselves in a very uncomfortable position when they realize that an employer has asked them to do something illegal.

Perhaps a billing manager at a hospital instructs a new hire to upcode charges, meaning that they need to bill for a different service than the one that workers at the facility actually provided. Maybe a supervisor pressures someone to take steps that would violate a state or federal statute for the sake of expediency. Workers in California have protection from situations in which employers try to force them to break the law.

Workers have the right to decline illegal requests

When a supervisor asks that someone do something that is technically illegal, they may feel uncomfortable about the situation. However, the law is on the workers’ side. If a supervisor asks someone to commit a regulatory infraction or criminal offense, they could explain their understanding of the law to their supervisor and then refuse to perform the job tasks that would force them to violate the law.

Technically, companies cannot punish workers for refusing to violate state or federal statutes as part of their jobs. Companies cannot compel workers to do something illegal, and they also should not punish workers who refuse to do something that they know is illegal. Whistleblower protections apply as much to those who refuse to break the law as it does to those who report illegal company activity to outside regulatory authorities.

Whistleblower protections prevent employers from punishing workers who report misconduct or refuse to break the law. A company should not terminate or demote a worker for refusing to do something illegal. If a worker can show that a company penalized them for workplace conduct that falls under whistleblower statutes, then they may have grounds to take legal action against their employer.

Litigation initiated in accordance with whistleblower protection laws could lead to financial compensation or could even help a worker wrongfully terminated for doing the right thing get their job back after a firing. As such, learning more about whistleblower protections can help employees feel more confident when they do the right thing while on the job.