The CALIFORNIA Whistleblower Protection Act
The Critical Role of Whistleblowers
Whistleblowers are critical to ensuring government accountability and public safety. Under state law, anyone who reports an improper governmental activity is a whistleblower and is protected from retaliation.2 An improper governmental activity is any action by a state agency or by a state employee performing official duties that does the following:
- Breaks a state or federal law.
- Is economically wasteful.
- Involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.
- Does not comply with the State Administrative Manual, State Contracting Manual, executive order of the Governor, or a California Rule of Court.
Ways That Whistleblowers Can Report Improper Governmental Activities
Individuals can report suspected improper governmental activities by calling the toll-free Whistleblower Hotline (hotline) at (800) 952‑5665, by fax at (916) 322-2603, by US mail, or through the State Auditor's website at https://www.auditor.ca.gov/contactus/complaint.
Of the 636 calls or inquiries that the State Auditor received in the six months covered by this report, 369 came through the State Auditor's website, 154 through the mail, 94 through the hotline, 17 via facsimile, one through an individual who visited the State Auditor's office, and one through an internal source.
Investigation of Whistleblower Allegations
The State Auditor confidentially investigates allegations of improper governmental activity by state agencies and state employees. The State Auditor may conduct an investigation independently, or it may elect to have another state agency perform the confidential investigation under its supervision.
When the State Auditor Finds Improper Governmental Activities
If an investigation establishes that an improper governmental activity has occurred, the State Auditor may take one or more of the following actions:
- Confidentially report the matter to the Office of the Attorney General, the Legislature, law enforcement, or any other entity that has jurisdiction over the matter.
- Issue a confidential report to the head of the agency involved or to the entity with authority to take action against the state employee involved.
- Issue a public report on the matter, keeping confidential the identities of the individuals involved.
Under the Whistleblower Act, the State Auditor may issue public reports when an investigation substantiates an improper governmental activity. When issuing a public report, the State Auditor must keep confidential the identities of the whistleblower, any employees involved, and any individuals providing information in confidence to further the investigation. This report contains several examples of investigations that substantiated improper governmental activities, including misuse of state time and inaccurate attendance records, inadequate supervision, and inefficient use of state resources.
The State Auditor may also issue nonpublic reports to the head of the agency involved and, if appropriate, to the Attorney General, the relevant policy committees, and any other authority the State Auditor deems proper. For a nonpublic report, the State Auditor cannot release the identity of the whistleblower or any individuals providing information in confidence to further the investigation without their express permission.
The State Auditor performs no enforcement functions: this responsibility lies with the appropriate state agency, which is required to regularly notify the State Auditor of any action taken, including disciplinary action, until final action has been taken.
The Protection of Whistleblowers
State law protects state employees who blow the whistle on improper governmental activities. The State Auditor will protect a whistleblower's identity to the maximum extent allowed by law. Retaliation against a state employee who files a report is unlawful and may result in monetary penalties and imprisonment.
Corrective Actions Taken in Response to Investigations
The chapters of this report describe the corrective actions that state agencies implemented on individual cases for which the State Auditor completed investigations from July 2018 through December 2018. In addition, Table A summarizes all corrective actions that state agencies took in response to investigations from the time that the State Auditor opened the hotline in July 1993 until December 2018. Furthermore, these investigations have resulted in many state agencies modifying or reiterating their policies and procedures to prevent future improper activities.
|Type of corrective action||Totals|
|Resignations or retirements while under investigation||27*|
|Suspensions without pay||32|
Source: State Auditor.
* The State Auditor began tracking resignations and retirements in 2007, so this number includes only those that occurred during investigations since that time.
2 The California Whistleblower Protection Act can be found in its entirety in Government Code sections 8547 through 8548.5. It is available online at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.
Go back to text