California Labor Code 98.6 LC provides whistleblower protection to employees who report their employers’ wage and hour violations. Employers who retaliate or discriminate against whistleblowers face a $10,000 civil penalty.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
LC 98.6. (a) A person shall not discharge an employee or in any manner discriminate, retaliate, or take any adverse action against any employee or applicant for employment because the employee or applicant engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter, including the conduct described in subdivision (k) of Section 96, and Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 1101) of Part 3 of Division 2, or because the employee or applicant for employment has filed a bona fide complaint or claim or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or relating to his or her rights that are under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner, made a written or oral complaint that he or she is owed unpaid wages, or because the employee has initiated any action or notice pursuant to Section 2699, or has testified or is about to testify in a proceeding pursuant to that section, or because of the exercise by the employee or applicant for employment on behalf of himself, herself, or others of any rights afforded him or her.
(b)(1) Any employee who is discharged, threatened with discharge, demoted, suspended, retaliated against, subjected to an adverse action, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of his or her employment because the employee engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter, including the conduct described in subdivision (k) of Section 96, and Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 1101) of Part 3 of Division 2, or because the employee has made a bona fide complaint or claim to the division pursuant to this part, or because the employee has initiated any action or notice pursuant to Section 2699 shall be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by those acts of the employer.
(2) An employer who willfully refuses to hire, promote, or otherwise restore an employee or former employee who has been determined to be eligible for rehiring or promotion by a grievance procedure, arbitration, or hearing authorized by law, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(3) In addition to other remedies available, an employer who violates this section is liable for a civil penalty not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) per employee for each violation of this section, to be awarded to the employee or employees who suffered the violation.
(c)(1) Any applicant for employment who is refused employment, who is not selected for a training program leading to employment, or who in any other manner is discriminated against in the terms and conditions of any offer of employment because the applicant engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter, including the conduct described in subdivision (k) of Section 96, and Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 1101) of Part 3 of Division 2, or because the applicant has made a bona fide complaint or claim to the division pursuant to this part, or because the employee has initiated any action or notice pursuant to Section 2699 shall be entitled to employment and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by the acts of the prospective employer.
(2) This subdivision shall not be construed to invalidate any collective bargaining agreement that requires an applicant for a position that is subject to the collective bargaining agreement to sign a contract that protects either or both of the following as specified in subparagraphs (A) and (B), nor shall this subdivision be construed to invalidate any employer requirement of an applicant for a position that is not subject to a collective bargaining agreement to sign an employment contract that protects either or both of the following:
(A) An employer against any conduct that is actually in direct conflict with the essential enterprise-related interests of the employer and where breach of that contract would actually constitute a material and substantial disruption of the employer’s operation.
(B) A firefighter against any disease that is presumed to arise in the course and scope of employment, by limiting his or her consumption of tobacco products on and off the job.
(d) The provisions of this section creating new actions or remedies that are effective on January 1, 2002, to employees or applicants for employment do not apply to any state or local law enforcement agency, any religious association or corporation specified in subdivision
(d) of Section 12926 of the Government Code, except as provided in Section 12926.2 of the Government Code, or any person described in Section 1070 of the Evidence Code.
(e) An employer, or a person acting on behalf of the employer, shall not retaliate against an employee because the employee is a family member of a person who has, or is perceived to have, engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter.
(f) For purposes of this section, “employer” or “a person acting on behalf of the employer” includes, but is not limited to, a client employer as defined in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 2810.3 and an employer listed in subdivision (b) of Section 6400.
(g) Subdivisions (e) and (f) shall not apply to claims arising under subdivision (k) of Section 96 unless the lawful conduct occurring during nonwork hours away from the employer’s premises involves the exercise of employee rights otherwise covered under subdivision (a).
California Labor Code 98.6 LC prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who exercise their rights, such as:
- asking for payment of wages that are due to them,
- reporting wage and hour violations to the Labor Commissioner, or
- expressing opinions about alternative workweeks.
Examples of retaliatory or discriminatory behavior include terminating, demoting, or harassing the employee. Note that LC 98.6’s “whistleblower” protection extends not only to employees but also to:
- job applicants who complained in the past to the Labor Commissioner about their prior employers, and
- employees who are related to employees who filed labor violation complaints
Example: Tom reports to the California Labor Commissioner that his boss is paying less than minimum wage. When Tom’s boss finds out, she demotes him. Here, the boss violated LC 98.6 for retaliating against Tom for reporting a wage and hour violation.
Employees who were retaliated against in violation of LC 98.6 can receive a civil penalty of up to $10,000 from the employer for each violation. And employees who were wrongfully fired for being whistleblowers are entitled to:
- reinstatement, and
- reimbursement for lost wages.1
See our related article on whistleblower protection for employees who report legal violations (LC 1102.5).
- California Labor Code 98.6 LC – Discrimination, discharge, or refusal to hire for exercise of employee rights; Reinstatement and reimbursement; Refusal to reinstate as misdemeanor; Applicability; Employer prohibited from retaliation. See, for example: Ayala v. Frito Lay, Inc. (E.D. Cal. June 29, 2017), 263 F. Supp. 3d 891; Rope v. Auto-Chlor System of Washington, Inc. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Oct. 16, 2013), 220 Cal. App. 4th 635.