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Can a supervisor require workers to do something illegal?

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2024 | Whistleblower Law |

There are many ways for employees to break the law at work. Oftentimes, employee lawbreaking occurs as a personal choice. Embezzlement is a common employee crime. Workers may even violate laws intended to keep them safe on the job for the sake of expediency. The infractions they commit are their personal choices and not a reflection of company practices.

However, sometimes company practices effectively compel workers to violate the law. Managers or trainers may try to convince workers to do something illegal as part of their routine job functions. For example, someone working at a medical practice might learn that the company changes certain billing entries to maximize how much they charge insurance companies.

Other times, a retail company might train workers to turn a blind eye to organized criminal activity, like well-known local criminals using the company’s prepaid credit cards or money transfer services to launder illicit cash. Occasionally, these illegal practices are critical to how the company operates. Can an employer punish a worker who refuses to do something they know is illegal?

Workers have the right to say no to illegal conduct

Workers sometimes put themselves in difficult situations when they are unaware of the laws that apply to their industry. Others can protect themselves by learning about the law so that they can recognize the signs of common violations.

Employees who realize that their employers routinely violate the law are in a very challenging position. However, they do have protection under California state law. A worker can refuse to engage in work tasks that involve illegal activity. Whistleblower protection laws apply to employees who assert that they cannot complete certain job tasks because they violate state or federal statutes.

If the worker reports the practices in one department to management or to an outside regulatory authority, they still have protection. An employer should not fire, demote or otherwise penalize a worker who recognized illegal activity and took action to stop it. Despite the laws that exist, the unfortunate truth is that companies that happily violate certain laws may also violate whistleblower protection and anti-retaliation laws.

Documenting what occurs at a company, and seeking legal guidance accordingly, can help protect workers who realize that they must act as whistleblowers.