Governor Brown delivered a major victory to California’s workers by signing SB 306 (Hertzberg), landmark legislation to better protect whistleblowers facing employer retaliation when reporting illegal activity. As of January 1, 2018, this bill—sponsored by the California Labor Federation—will add important protections for working people who report health and safety violations, wage theft, minimum wage violations, or other crimes.
Why does this matter? Because our safety and our wages matter. Because our right to get the entire paycheck we earn and not get seriously injured on the job are ignored by far too many employers. Under current law, workers who are retaliated against for reporting crimes committed by their employers are left in limbo for far too long, making other workers afraid to speak out against violations.
For example, if you find a life-threatening safety hazard on the job and report it to Cal/OSHA, your employer isn’t allowed to fire you or retaliate against you in any way. But it happens all the time, and if it happens to you, about three years may go by before you get your job back. That’s right, three years without a job, just for doing the right thing.
Meanwhile, you’re out of work with no immediate recourse against your employer, no matter how blatantly and brazenly they broke the law. They could even admit to you that the firing was retaliation, and it still wouldn’t make any difference. The employer can easily bury you in court until you go away.
Worse yet, your co-workers saw this whole thing happen and are now extremely unlikely to report any safety violations they find. So, potentially fatal hazards will remain unreported and unaddressed and at risk of crippling or killing someone. That is what’s at stake and that’s why SB 306 was such a priority for the labor movement.
SB 306 (Hertzberg) simply allows a worker in this situation to ask a judge for his or her job back while the state conducts an investigation. This means getting back to work in days or weeks rather than years. Also, the judge will be directed to consider the chilling effect such retaliation creates among co-workers and to put people back to work immediately when retaliation clearly took place.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski:
When workers speak out against unsafe conditions on the job, they should be able to do so without fear of getting fired for blowing the whistle. AB 306 offers much-needed protection to workers facing retaliation for reporting employers’ illegal activity. This law gives working people a new and effective tool to defend their basic rights and safety on the job. We applaud the Legislature for passing this vital measure and Governor Brown for standing up for workers by signing it into law.
With this new law, no longer will employers be able to so openly retaliate against workers; no longer will workers always face a choice between doing the right thing and spending years in court. We thank Senator Hertzberg and our co-sponsors in the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the SEIU State Council for all of their work in getting this done. This is a huge win for working people.