A California Court of Appeal in Cardenas v. M. Fanaian, D.D.S., Inc. held that Labor Code § 1102.5, which protects employees from retaliation for reporting illegal conduct to law enforcement agencies, applies to an employee’s report of illegal conduct of a private or individual nature unrelated to the employer’s operation or enterprise.

Cardenas was a dental hygienist. She received an expensive ring from her husband for her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Cardenas wore her new ring to work every day until one day when it went missing. She had reason to believe that a coworker had stolen the ring. When she told her boss, he discouraged her from reporting the incident to the police. Cardenas and her husband went ahead and filed a police report for theft of the ring. The police visited the dental office where Cardenas worked a few times to interview witnesses and collect evidence. After one of the visits, Cardenas’s boss told her that the police investigation was becoming a distraction for the office and that he would have to let her go.

Cardenas sued her employer for violation of Labor Code § 1102.5 and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The employer argued that Cardenas could not maintain a claim for violation of Labor Code § 1102.5 for reporting the personal matter (i.e., theft of her wedding ring) since the legislative intent was to protect employees from retaliation for reporting illegal conduct related to the employment operation or enterprise. The court disagreed. It noted that if the legislature had wished to limit the application of Labor Code § 1102.5, it could have included clarifying language explicitly restricting protection of the statute to reporting employer-related issues. However, the legislature did not and thus the court was forced to apply the statute based on its plain language.

The court’s interpretation and application of the Labor Code and its protection of employees is broad and shows the importance that California courts place on preventing retaliation in the workplace, even with respect to alleged unlawful behavior that is unrelated to the operation of the business.