Signs Of Retaliation At Work In California

Updated: Jan 27

How To File Workplace Retaliation Claims in California


Under both state and federal law, employees and workers have various rights. For this post, we'll discuss how you have the right to report and sue your employer if they breach such rights. Furthermore, if you see a coworker's rights being violated, you have the right to report the infraction and take part in an investigation into the infringements.


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However, many employees are afraid of retaliation if they assert their rights at work. What happens if you're fired? What if you're demoted to a job that's either inhumane or low-paying? These and other worries are frequently at the root of an employee's unwillingness to speak up for what is right.


So, if you're afraid of reporting workplace issues or have been retaliated against for doing so, it's time to talk to a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer. An expert employment law attorney can assist you in sorting through the facts of your case, standing firm, and pursuing the justice you deserve.

What Is Protected Activity, and How Does It Work?


We must first clarify what we mean by a "protected activity" in the workplace before having a meaningful conversation about retaliation.

Protected activity, in general, refers to legal actions that an employee can take in reaction to illegal or unethical workplace conditions. In addition, various state and federal equal opportunity employment laws describe what constitutes unlawful discrimination, harassment, and other workplace activities.

The right to be free of discrimination is based on your protected attributes. Here's a list of workplace discrimination that is considered illegal in California:

These rules also protect people from sexual harassment and create fundamental ethical and safety guidelines in line with government policy.

Employees have the right to file and push a complaint if they are subjected to discrimination or harassment at work. A California Employment Attorney can advise you on whether you should submit your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the federal level or with the FEHA at the state level.


In either case, the law bans your employer from retaliating against you after you file a complaint alleging illegal action.

How Do You Show Proof Of Retaliation?


For a successful retaliation claim in California, you must be able to prove three elements:

  1. You participated in a protected action

  2. Your employer retaliated against you as a result of your actions

  3. The retaliatory action taken by your employer was in response to the protected activity

Participating in protected action entails asserting your rights or the rights of a coworker. This usually indicates you've reported illegal discrimination or some other type of criminal activity.


It does, however, include taking part in an investigation into claims made by coworkers. So, for example, if a coworker files a lawsuit alleging discrimination or harassment, and you testify against your employer, the law shields you against retaliation for your role in the case.

Also, note that for as long as your reported your employer fully believing that illegal activity is taking place, you still cannot be punished or retaliated against even when it is revealed that you were wrong. As long as you have reason to believe that your employer is violating worker and workplace protection laws, you shouldn't hesitate to approach the appropriate agencies to make the report.


What's the Difference Between a Retaliation Case, Wrongful Termination Case, and a Whistleblower Case?


From the perspective of a non-lawyer, these three can often get mixed up with each other. There are, however, distinct features to each of them.

Here's a quick rundown of the distinctions:

  • Wrongful Termination is a form of retaliation.

  • Whistleblower Retaliation is specifically targeting the "whistleblower" or the employee who reported their employers to the agency, exposing the unlawful actions the company does.

As stated previously, retaliation often entails firing an employee for speaking out against discrimination, harassment, or patient mistreatment.


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Wrongful termination can have a wide range of consequences. A wrongful termination case involves a dismissal due to a violation of "public policy." This could include being fired for complaining about dangerous working conditions or coworker threats of violence. The retaliation rules in California would not apply to either of these situations.

A case involving a whistleblower is also unique. A whistleblower lawsuit usually includes a specific statute, such as Labor Code 1102.5 (refusing to violate the law or reporting a violation of the law) or Health & Safety Code 1278.5 (refusing to violate the law or reporting a breach of the law). While also a form of retaliation, you can file a whole separate case for being a whistleblower.

What Are Examples Of Retaliatory Actions?

An employer might retaliate against their employee or worker for "blowing the whistle" on illegal workplace behavior in various ways. Retaliation can be defined as any action taken by an employer that has a negative impact on an employee.


This includes being on the receiving end of the following retaliatory employment decisions:

  1. Demotion

  2. Termination, Firing

  3. Suspension

  4. Getting closely monitored at work

  5. Getting rebuked or scolded for no or unjust reason

  6. Work performance is negatively assessed without justification

  7. Transferred or reassigned to less-desirable position, location, or department

  8. New and unfavorable work assignments have been assigned

  9. Getting ridiculed in private or in front of your coworkers

As you can see, an employer might respond in a variety of ways. However, demonstrating that a given act or group of actions was retaliatory might be difficult.

To examine your employer's motivations, you'll need to get into their head to some extent. And, while proving someone's intent can be challenging, your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer will look for specific patterns of behavior to determine a motive.

Is There A Motive?


Retaliation doesn't come from nowhere. While it's not impossible for your boss to just lash out at you out of the blue, retaliation often closely follows having reported your employer or testifying to an employment claim investigation.


Frequently, retaliation is how an employer reacts in certain situations. As employers, they're probably already aware of why the act itself is illegal, and yet they choose to react that way anyway.


Here are several red flags that your boss is retaliating against you:


1. Check For The Timing


There's a significant probability you've been the victim of retaliation if you file a lawsuit against your company and soon after discover that they're treating you differently.


In general, the closer these two occurrences occur in time, the tighter the association and the more compelling your retaliation case becomes. This is why you're advised to keep a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer before you even file your claims to relevant agencies.

2. Your Employers' Actions Cannot Be Legally Justified


If your employer or supervisor takes disciplinary action against you, you'll understandably demand an explanation. But, unfortunately, if your employer's answer sounds implausible or easily debunked, they may be concealing retaliatory behavior.

Similarly, you are most likely being retaliated against if you hear contradicting explanations from different supervisors or if the reasons keep changing. As a result, always request an explanation.

If possible, obtain it in writing every time a supervisor gives you a contradictory answer. If they refuse to put it in writing, take careful notes. This can help you and your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer prove your case later on.

3. Unprompted Or Sudden Changes At Work


Essentially, if your employer's attitude and treatment of you abruptly and without cause changes, it can be used as evidence of motive. This is especially true when no other employees are affected in the same way, and there is no drop in productivity or job performance as a pretext.


Acts of retaliation—like demotions, terminations, and hostile work environments—are often very abrupt and seemingly spontaneous. This is why most employees hesitate to file claims even when they have enough grounds to.


However, you shouldn't let that stop or intimidate you from doing so. Remember, you're the one protected by California Employment Laws, so if you get punished for exercising those rights, you can serve them with an additional retaliation claim.


What Should I Do If I Retaliated Against?


If you believe your boss or employer has retaliated against you for exercising a legally protected right, you have a lot of legal options. Examples of such are as follows: