In California, do the whistleblower's protections apply to non-employees and private businesses?

For example, suppose you live in a small town with a single gas station. And you notice that its employee was smoking (which you are not supposed to do at a gas station). You write to the management. But the management accuses you of lying, hints that it will sue you if you tell anyone else, and further retaliates by banning you. Is that legal?

  • 1
    Why is the employee not allowed to smoke?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 10 at 15:10
  • 2
    I don't think a person who is not an employee can be a whistleblower. That said, whistleblower protections do apply to private businesses (e.g. via Dodd-Frank) but only if they go to the relevant authorities for reporting the information (e.g. the SEC).
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Jun 10 at 15:11
  • 1
    @JonCuster It's a fire hazard at a gas station.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 10 at 17:16
  • @Barmar - that depends a lot on where they smoke. Somehow in the 1960s and 70s people smoked in gas stations all the time. They didn't throw burning matches and cigarettes into gas containers (you could throw them into diesel containers though). So, what is the law about smoking or not.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 10 at 17:21
  • 1
    @JonCuster IMHO the smoking is just a place holder for some bad/dangerous behavior
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 10 at 17:51

1 Answer 1


IMHO Whistleblower protections are there to protect employees from retribution from their place of work when they identify Bad Things© going on there. As the John Doe is not an employee, him noticing the employee smoking means that he is simply a witness to the event and not a whistleblower.

As such the management of the company are free to threaten lawsuits etc any time of the day. However, if the management went down that path, they would potentially open themselves up to accusations that they are starting a SLAPP lawsuit. Thus, Mr Doe could gain protection in that arena.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (also known as SLAPP suits or intimidation lawsuits),1 or strategic litigation against public participation,[2] are lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.[3]

From the same link:


California has a unique variant of anti-SLAPP legislation. In 1992 California enacted Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16, a statute intended to frustrate SLAPPs by providing a quick and inexpensive defense.[11] It provides for a special motion that a defendant can file at the outset of a lawsuit to strike a complaint when it arises from conduct that falls within the rights of petition or free speech. The statute expressly applies to any writing or speech made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other official proceeding authorized by law, but there is no requirement that the writing or speech be promulgated directly to the official body. It also applies to speech in a public forum about an issue of public interest and to any other petition or speech conduct about an issue of public interest.

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