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While most Californians know that both federal and state laws exist to protect employees from workplace discrimination and harassment, many still have specific questions about California employment laws – especially when they involve workplace retaliation and the adverse employment actions which characterize retaliation.

This article will answer common questions about workplace retaliation laws in California to help you better understand your employee rights.

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While most Californians know that both federal and state laws exist to protect employees from workplace discrimination and harassment, many still have specific questions about California employment laws – especially when they involve workplace retaliation and the adverse employment actions which characterize retaliation.

This article will answer common questions about workplace retaliation laws in California to help you better understand your employee rights.

Common Questions About Workplace Retaliation in California

What constitutes retaliation in the workplace?

Have you been punished by your employer for engaging in behaviors that are protected under federal or state laws? Then you may be able to file a retaliation lawsuit. In California, your employer cannot punish you for filing workplace discrimination or harassment complaints, participating in workplace investigations or providing evidence for an investigation into discrimination or harassment, refusing to engage in illegal conduct, or reporting fraudulent activities. You can spot workplace retaliation in the form of adverse actions that relate to your protected activities, such as an increase in workload, unfair demotions, unlawful firings, job or shift reassignments, salary reductions, or termination.

What is the difference between unlawful retaliation and retaliation?

This may be surprising, but not all forms of employer retaliation are unlawful. Retaliation is generally only unlawful when your employer punishes you for engaging in protected activities or for opposing unlawful conduct. However, these activities cover a broad spectrum of behaviors. To know whether you’ve been unlawfully retaliated against, and to file a retaliation complaint, you should have evidence of three things: (1) the protected activity in which you are engaged, (2) the adverse action taken by your employer against you, and (3) knowledge of a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action you’ve claimed, such as statements or timing.

What is a protected activity?

A “protected activity” defines activities in which workers may participate without fear of retaliation in the workplace (e.g. reporting or opposing illegal activity, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation).

What types of actions do not constitute protected activities?

Many types of employer conduct aren’t legally protected, a common example we see in our practice is when an employee complains of generic mistreatment by an employer or coworker. Perhaps a coworker is favored and treated as such by your boss because they play on the same adult softball team. Reporting or complaining about this type of behavior would likely not qualify as legally protected conduct under the law. If you are still concerned about what might constitute protected activities, contact an employment attorney.

What is considered an adverse employment action?

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employment action is considered adverse if a reasonable employee finds the employer’s behavior materially adverse; meaning the action could have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a discrimination charge. Actions like firing and demoting are considered adverse employment actions when related to a retaliation claim. Other unfavorable employer behaviors like lateral transfers, unfavorable references that don’t have an effect on prospective employer’s hiring considerations, plus the imposition of a change in work schedule that becomes burdensome to an employee could also be considered an adverse employment action under the law.

What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?

In addition to federal and state workplace retaliation laws, and California whistleblower protections, there are also special whistleblower retaliation laws that help protect government employees from very specific adverse employment actions. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 is a United States federal law that protects federal whistleblowers who work for the government and report agency misconduct.

A federal agency violates the Whistleblower Protection Act if it fails to take, or takes (or threatens to take or fails to take) a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant if the employee or applicant discloses information that he or she reasonably believes provides evidence of a violation of a law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a specific danger to public health or safety.

Do you have other questions about workplace retaliation? Let us know in the comments.

Additional Information on Workplace Retaliation Laws

• Facts About Retaliation via The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

• California Whistleblower Protections via California Division of Labor Standard Enforcement (DLSE)

• California Retaliation & Discrimination Complaints: Summary of Procedures via State of California Department of Industrial Relations

If you feel you’ve been subjected to unlawful employer retaliation in California, contact the expert employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz so we can help you build your case today.