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Can an employee be fired for refusing to break the law?

by | Nov 30, 2015 | Whistleblower Protection |

When an employer directs an employee to engage in illegal activity it puts the employee in an incredibly difficult situation. On one hand, the employee wants to uphold the law, is morally and ethically opposed to what the employer is asking, and naturally would fear the legal consequences of his action. But an equally compelling factor might be the employee’s need for the job, the people who depend on him or her to provide a paycheck, and the difficulty of finding gainful employment in this economy. It can seem like a no-win situation.


In California, an employee is protected from retaliation if he or she refuses to break the law. There are several requirements for protection under existing anti-retaliation and whistleblower legislation. First, the employee must engage in protected activity. Protected activity can be refusing to engage in activity that the employee reasonably believes will violate state or federal law. Protected activity can also include reporting to management, or an outside agency, a reasonable belief that the company or other employees are engaging in activity that breaks the law. Other sections of the labor code provide protection to employees who report unsafe working conditions.


Secondly, an employee must be able to show adverse employment action. This is often times being fired, but it can also include demotions. Finally, the employee would have to prove a connection or link between his or her engagement in a protected activity and the adverse employment action. The protected activity must be, at a minimum, a substantial motivating factor in the employee’s adverse employment action in order for a claim to be made.


California law is very clear in its protection of employee’s who refuse to break the law. Unscrupulous employers however may still seek to retaliate against the employee. If you believe that your employer has retaliated against you for your refusal to break the law or other type of participation in a protected activity, you should contact an experienced employment attorney immediately. With the pressure of needing a paycheck but the desire to do the right thing, it can seem like there is no good answer for an employee. At The Rutten Law Firm, APC, we have experience successfully representing whistleblower employees. We understand and appreciate the difficulties these employees face and will help ensure the protection of your rights.