Employees are generally familiar with the existence of laws meant to protect them from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. There are also laws that protect employees from workplace retaliation. 

These laws are designed to protect employees from being punished by an employer for filing harassment or discrimination complaints or participating in investigations of the workplace. An example of punishment for the employee can include being fired or demoted, being denied a raise or transfer, or being passed over for a promotion or training opportunity.

California workplace retaliation laws are in place to protect employees in California from adverse reactions taken against them by their employer. Workplace retaliation in California occurs when an employer takes action against an employee who participated in any of the following:

  • Reporting a violation of a law;
  • Making a complaint of workplace harassment or employment discrimination;
  • Participating in a workplace harassment or employment discrimination investigation;
  • Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability;
  • Requesting reasonable accommodations for a religious belief; and/or
  • Filing or participating in a qui tam” case under the California False Claims Act.

The California False Claims Act and whistleblower laws are designed to protect employees who report fraudulent or illegal activities from workplace retaliation. There are federal and state whistleblower laws. The California False Claims Act provides employees with a right to file a lawsuit against an employer who commits embezzlement, fraud, or theft of government funds. The California False Claims Act also provides a whistleblower employee with protections if they attempt to stop the theft of government funds.

How is Employment Discrimination Different from Wrongful Termination?

Employment discrimination and wrongful termination are slightly different concepts. Employment discrimination involves protecting employees from negative responses from an employer when they exercise certain rights at work. 

Wrongful termination laws are designed to protect employees from being fired illegally for reasons such as discrimination, or needing time off for medical reasons under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It is important to remember that many employees are at-will employees, meaning the employer can fire them at any time for any reason and the employee can quit at any time for any reason. 

What Actions Are Considered Retaliation? 

In California, any type of unfavorable actions by an employer towards an employee whistleblower is considered prohibited retaliation. There are many examples of these actions, including:

  • Employee termination;
  • Employee demotion;
  • Employee blacklisting, or preventing future hiring;
  • Employee reassigning to a less desirable position;
  • Pay or hour reduction;
  • Denial of regular wages, benefits, or overtime pay;
  • Denial of promotions;
  • Denial of acknowledgment of non-compete agreements;
  • Denial of employment; and/or
  • Employee harassment and intimidation from management or other employees.

This is, of course, not a listing of every possible negative action. Any negative action or reaction from an employer, manager or fellow employee who is employed by the same company or organization may be considered workplace retaliation.

How Does Someone Prove Retaliation at Work?

There are several things that an individual must prove to file a successful workplace retaliation claim. These include:

  • An individual engaged in a legally protect action;
  • An individual witnessed discrimination or harassment and reported it;
  • The individual’s employer took retaliatory action against the employee; and
  • The negative action taken against the employee was a result of the individual’s participation in a legally protected action.

It is very important to gather as much evidence as possible during the time that the retaliation is occurring. The more evidence an individual gathers, the more likely they will successfully prove their case. It is important to gather the evidence if an individual suspects workplace retaliation even if the evidence is never used in a lawsuit.

An example of evidence may be negative performance reviews after taking a protection action. These are especially important if previous performance reviews were favorable. Another example may be a pattern of retaliatory actions against other employees who chose to report issues at work.

How Does Someone File a Workplace Retaliation Complaint in California?

California retaliation laws provide employees with a process for filing a complaint for workplace retaliation. First, the employee must report any complaints to the company they work for. California state law requires employers and public entities to provide employees with procedures to deal with possible legal issues. If the employer or public entity disregards the complaint or retaliates against the employee who reported the issue, legal action may be taken against the employer or public entity.

Next, the employee should file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). After a complaint is filed with the DLSE, state investigators will look into the employer’s practices. Generally, an employee has six months after any retaliatory action to file a complaint. 

An employee can also file a civil lawsuit against the employer for workplace retaliation. It is important to consult with an attorney to ensure the lawsuit is filed in the correct state. The claim will generally be a wrongful termination or a whistleblower lawsuit. The employee will sue the employer for monetary damages. The employee has two years after the workplace retaliation to file a civil lawsuit.

If the employer is found liable in the civil lawsuit, they will be required to pay the employee for damages. These are generally monetary and will include lost wages and benefits lost as a result of the retaliatory actions. The employer may also be required to pay all attorney’s fees in the event they are found liable. 

In some cases, the court will determine that the retaliatory action was particularly malicious and award punitive damages in an attempt to prevent the employer from engaging in the same behavior in the future.

What is a Compensation Claim?

A compensation claim, also known as a workers’ compensation claim, covers injuries in the workplace. Workers’ compensation laws in California provide that if an employee is injured at work by a work-related accident, they may be compensated for those injuries, unless the injury was self-inflicted due to the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most California employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover the cost of employee injuries at work.

California law provides a no-fault workers’ compensation, used to benefit employees and employers alike. It provides that an employee cannot sue the employer for the injury and, conversely, they do not have to prove the employer was at fault for the injury. The only requirement is that the injury be work-related.

It is against California law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who files a workers’ compensation claim. Employers may not want to pay for the cost of the injury and may retaliate against the employee in an attempt to avoid having to compensate them. California enacted the Workers’ Compensation Act to assist employees in receiving compensation from employers for their injuries. 

Should You Hire an Attorney for Help with a Workplace Retaliation Complaint?

Yes, a California employment attorney will be able to review your case and assist you in protecting your rights. Workplace retaliation complaints and employment law can be complex cases and sometimes difficult to prove, so it is important to consult with an experienced employment attorney. 

An employment attorney will be able to help with California retaliation cases, especially since the employee is often in a weaker position than their employer. If you believe you have been a victim of workplace retaliation in California, gather any evidence you can and seek the services of a California employment attorney.