California Employer Retaliation

The state of California has many laws in place to protect employees from discrimination, harassment and unfair action. To enforce employment security and to offer further protection, there are also laws that protect employees from employer retaliation.

Discrimination of any kind is unlawful in the workplace, and in accordance with a myriad of federal and state laws, any employee who sees or experiences discrimination is encouraged to file a report. Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee in any way for engaging in such legally protected activity. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “An employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise 'retaliate' against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination.”

Whistleblowers, or employees who recognize unlawful or unethical behavior on the part of the employer and inform a law-enforcement agency, are protected by law. California's Whistleblower Protection Act states that “...employees should be free to report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law or threat to the public without fear of retribution. The California Legislature further finds and declares that public servants best serve the citizenry when they can be candid and honest without reservation in conducting the people's business.” Any adverse action that an employer takes including termination, demotion, threats and coercion is deemed unlawful.

Proving workplace retaliation can be a difficult task because, when accused, an employer will often devise another reason for a demotion or pay cut, stating that his or her actions were based on a poor performance review or customer complaints. California courts have made clear that an employee must have “reasonable belief” that their employer is engaging in unlawful activity. If you think your employer may be acting out in retaliation, you are urged to first speak with your supervisor or human resources representative about the acts. If the two of you decide that this behavior is unethical, you can contact the office of the California Labor Commissioner or the EEOC.

To establish retaliation you will need to provide evidence that demonstrates that your complaint triggered your employer's behavior. To do this, you are urged to speak with an employment attorney who is familiar with tactics that provide proof.