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New California Legislation Extends Time to File Whistleblower Complaints

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Although federal and state laws provide workers with numerous protections in the workplace, many workers are still reluctant to come forward and pursue a claim. Sometimes the worker fears retaliation. In other instances, the worker may feel uncomfortable proceeding without first seeking the advice of an attorney–assuming they can even afford to hire one.

California law prohibits employer retaliation in response to an employee’s protected activity, like a valid whistleblower complaint. It is illegal for any employer to discharge or take any “adverse action” against an employee who engages in certain forms of “protected conduct,” such as filing an employment discrimination complaint. If an employee has reason to believe they have been a victim of retaliation, they can file a complaint with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

Legislature Scales Back Proposal Following Earlier Newsom Veto

Traditionally, an employee only had six months from the date of the retaliatory act to file a whistleblower complaint with the DLSE. But Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation extending that deadline–as well as making it possible for workers to recover their legal fees in certain retaliation cases.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1947 provides a worker now has a full year to file a complaint with the DLSE. As before, this one-year clock starts to run on the day the alleged violation occurred. Additionally, AB 1947 adds new language to the state’s Labor Code stating a judge may “award reasonable attorney’s fees to a plaintiff who brings a successful action for a violation of” the anti-retaliation laws.

The legislature actually passed a similar bill in 2019 that would have extended the DLSE filing deadline from six months to two years. Newsom vetoed this bill, however, and suggested a one-year deadline to match similar statutes of limitations contained in other parts of the Labor Code.

So why extend the deadline at all? According to the California Employment Lawyers Association, which sponsored AB 1947, noted that workers have two avenues to address workplace retaliation. They can either file a complaint with the DLSE or pursue their own civil lawsuit. In the latter scenario, the worker has two years to bring a case, as opposed to the six months previously imposed on DLSE complaints. More to the point, the Association said that “low-wage workers” are often unable to access the court system due to lack of legal representation, meaning they are more likely to use the administrative process instead.

Need Legal Advice Regarding Your Workplace Rights?

Indeed, if you have faced discrimination or retaliation in your own workplace, you may not even realize you have legal options. And even if you do, you may still not understand the exact steps you must take in order to have your case heard. That is why your first step should always be to contact an experienced California employment law attorney who can advise you of your rights.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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