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Court: Reporting personal theft is ‘protected activity’

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

A new California appellate court ruling shows that employees who are terminated for reporting the alleged theft of personal property at work have a right to sue for wrongful termination as a whistle-blower. The report merely has to involve criminal activity. It doesn’t have to be work related or concern a matter of public interest.

The case: Rosa, a dental hygienist, reported that her phone and anniversary ring were stolen off a table at work. Rosa’s boss discouraged her from contacting police. She did anyway, and the police visited several times. The boss told Rosa the investigation was creating conflict, so he fired her.

She sued, alleging that she was a whistle-blower who had been retaliated against. A jury agreed and awarded her $117,000 in damages.

The employer appealed, arguing that reporting a personal theft at work wasn’t protected activity and didn’t involve a matter of public interest. The court disagreed. It said reporting a workplace theft to police falls under the definition of reporting a violation of the law, even if the employer was not the one violating the law. Punishing an employee for doing so would discourage him or her from reporting it. (Cardenas v. M. Fanaian, No. F069305, Court of Appeal of California, 2015)

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