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What Are Retaliation Claims In California?

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

A Guide To Employment Retaliation Cases, Worker Protections, And Legal Options In California

California offers employee protections that allow all workers to fight for their rights without consequences. As a result, you should be able to report your employer, participate in legal investigations, and obey the law without getting punished or retaliated against. That said, if your employer punishes you for exercising your legal and employment rights, you need to immediately consult with a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer.

In the meantime, here's a rundown of your rights, how to tell if you're getting retaliated against, and what you can do when it unfortunately happens to you at work.

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Employees are generally aware that there are laws in place to protect them from workplace discrimination and harassment. In addition, there are additional regulations that protect employees from retaliation in the workplace.

These laws are intended to safeguard employees from being fired for filing harassment or discrimination complaints or cooperating with workplace investigations. Instead, the employee may be fired or demoted, refused a raise or transfer, or passed up for a promotion or training opportunity as examples of punishment.

California workplace retaliation laws are in place to protect employees against retaliation by their employers. In California, workplace retaliation happens when an employer takes action against an employee who has engaged in any of the following activities:

  • Reporting a legal infraction/violation that your employer or coworker has committed

  • Making a workplace harassment or employment discrimination complaint

  • Participating in an inquiry into workplace harassment or discrimination

  • Making a request for reasonable accommodations because of a disability

  • Making a reasonable accommodation request because of a religious belief

  • Applying for a leave of absence under FMLA

  • Filing or participating in a California False Claims Act "qui tam" complaint.

Employees who disclose fraudulent or unlawful acts are protected from retaliation under the California False Claims Act and whistleblower laws. Whistleblower laws exist on both the federal and state levels. Under the False Claims Act, employees in California have the right to initiate a lawsuit against an employer who embezzles, frauds, or steals government monies. In addition, if a whistleblower employee tries to stop the theft of government funds, they are protected under the California False Claims Act.

Of course, not everyone's retaliation case looks the same. You might have a specific experience that isn't common, but you feel it qualifies for a retaliation claim. For more information about your particular case and the possible legal steps you can take, contact a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer to help you. Not only will they be able to supply you with more information, but they'll also be able to help you determine the grounds you have for an employment claim in California.

What Is the Difference Between Employment Discrimination and Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination and employment discrimination are two distinct notions. When employees exercise certain rights at work, employment discrimination protects them against negative responses from their employers.

Basically, employment discrimination is when your employer makes employment decisions based on your protected qualities or activities. So, for example, while being pregnant doesn't protect you from getting fired for poor performance and other reasons, your boss cannot fire you simply for being pregnant or taking pregnancy leaves. Likewise, your boss cannot refuse to hire an otherwise qualified applicant simply because of age, race, color, sex, gender, etc.

On the other hand, wrongful termination laws protect employees from being fired without cause, such as discrimination or the necessity for medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In addition, many employees are at-will employees, which means that the employer can dismiss them at any time for any reason, and the employee can quit at anytime for any reason. However, while employers can fire "at-will" employees whenever they want, that doesn't mean that they can fire you for illegal reasons.

What Are the Different Types of Retaliation?

In California, any unfavorable or adverse employment action taken by an employer against a whistleblower is considered illegal retaliation. These actions can be seen in a variety of ways, such as:

  1. Employee dismissal

  2. Demotion of an employee

  3. Employee blacklisting, or the practice of restricting future employment

  4. Reassignment of an employee to a less favorable role

  5. Pay or a reduction in working hours

  6. Regular salaries, benefits, and overtime pay are not paid

  7. Promotional denial

  8. Non-competition agreements are not acknowledged

  9. Rejection of employment

  10. Harassment and intimidation of employees by management or coworkers

  11. Reassigning an employee to an office or store location deliberately makes it harder for them to get to work

Of course, this isn't a comprehensive list of all possible harmful actions. For example, workplace retaliation can be defined as any adverse action or reaction by an employer, management, or coworker who works for the same company or organization.

When in doubt if you have the grounds to report your employer, consult a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer to help you sort out, record, and get evidence for the retaliation you experienced at work.

How to Prove Retaliation in the Workplace?

No employer is ever going to openly admit that they retaliated against you. It does not benefit them in any way to do so, which means a direct confession of fault isn't something you should be relying on. That said, you need to gather the evidence of retaliation yourself, which can be in the form of retracing timelines, recounting alleged discriminatory and retaliatory events, and showing workplace documentation.

Additionally, California courts have specified the number of indirect or circumstantial ways for an employee to prove their retaliation claim over the years:

  • The proximity of a Protected Activity to Termination/Retaliation in Time. The timing of the retaliatory action, such as termination, concerning the protected conduct in which an employee is one of the first signals of likely employer retaliation. That said, if you've retaliated after you've filed complaints or reported your employer, then the adverse employment action may be a retaliatory act related to your most recent activities.

    • While there is no hard and fast rule about how close the protected activity should be to the alleged retaliatory act, if you were demoted or suspended within weeks of engaging in a protected act, such as filing a workers' compensation claim, complaining about harassment or discrimination, complaining about safety violations, etc., this would usually support at least an inference of retaliation.

    • Of course, the longer you worked for the company, the easier it would be to take advantage of less-than-ideal timing. For example, if you worked for the company for 15 years and were fired within three months of filing a discrimination complaint without having had any significant problems at work previously, this timing will be far more beneficial to you than it would be to an employee in the same situation who has only been with the company for a few months.

    • Although many courts rule that time alone does not establish a retaliation claim, this is usually a good place to start and a hint to many attorneys that it's worth looking into your claims further.

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  • Retaliatory Actions Indicated by Statements. Managers frequently make retaliatory statements, such as doubting an employee's devotion to the organization out loud (in person) or in emails.

    • If you're constantly getting scolded or your recent activities (which were in your rights to do) are always getting mentioned passive-aggressively, then it can be a good sign of animosity between you and your employer or manager.

    • Alternatively, discouraging an employee from filing a complaint is another sign. After all, it is within your right to file complaints or report your employer to agencies and authorities. No one should be trying to discourage you from doing so in the first place.

    • Your coworkers probably overheard the managers' statements about how they want to get rid of you in so many words, and it's well worth obtaining those employee witness testimonies to bolster your case.

  • Performance Evaluations Have Undergone a Significant Change. If you had a history of receiving positive performance reports before engaging in a protected activity and then started receiving poor reviews or warnings shortly after, this could also help prove retaliation by your employer.

    • Remember that acts of retaliation are unjustified. When your employer, HR, or manager's employment decisions are motivated by your protected activity, it is considered an act of discrimination or retaliation.

    • Also, sometimes you would know if you're performing well. After all, if you never skimped out on the quality of work you do (and you're doing well like most of your high-rated coworkers), then it might be a sign that you're already getting singled out at work.

  • Being Punished More Strictly Than Others. You can also claim retaliation if you show that you were fired for the same infraction that other employees are usually merely given a warning for or are not reprimanded.

    • For example, if you are fired for being 15 minutes late shortly after engaging in a protected action, and the employee has never given you or anybody else any trouble in the past for being late, this could indicate a retaliatory mindset on your employer's side.

    • Because an employer seeking to retaliate against an employee would hunt for any trivial excuse to fire that person, this type of proof is highly worth looking for, as it is frequently discovered.

As previously said, proving a retaliation case necessitates a thorough examination of the timeline of events and the acquisition of corroborating evidence to support your side of the story.

To help you organize your thoughts, and evidence, and draft a coherent stance, contact an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles. Attorneys who are experienced with Labor Law Claims know their way around the law, so they can argue, find evidence, and negotiate with your employer and the agencies for you.

How Does One Prove Workplace Retaliation?

So, we've mentioned how to spot retaliation when it's happening to you. If you have a strong suspicion that you're getting retaliated against, then you might want to start collecting possible evidence and grounds to pursue a claim.

To pursue a successful workplace retaliation claim, an individual must show several elements. These are some of them:

  • An individual who has taken legal action to safeguard himself or herself.

  • An individual witnessed and reported discrimination or harassment.

  • The employee was subjected to retaliation by his or her employer.

  • The employee was retaliated due to his or her engagement in a legally protected activity.

It is important for you to be able to collect as much evidence as possible throughout the retaliation period. The more evidence a person collects, the more likely they are to succeed in proving their case. Even if the evidence is never utilized in a lawsuit, it is critical to acquire evidence if an individual fear workplace retaliation.

Negative performance reports following a protective action could be an example of proof. These are especially crucial if you have received positive performance assessments in the past. Another example is the practice of retaliatory actions against other employees who choose to disclose workplace difficulties.

Here are a few types of retaliation evidence that you can possibly collect yourself:

  • Retaliation evidence in the form of photos and videos. Keep a record of any slurs, nasty behavior, or unfavorable treatment you've gotten. Although retaliatory actions can be subtle, capturing them on camera may aid your lawyer in developing the arguments needed to support your case.

    • However, you should use caution while photographing or filming other people because it may aggravate disagreements or tensions, perhaps placing you at risk.

  • Text Messages, Chats, and Emails are all options. Keep a record of any emails, conversations, or messages that appear to be harassing, discriminatory, or retaliatory in discrimination. Take screenshots of the chat rooms and keep all of your emails in one location for easy retrieval.

  • Pay stubs, written notices, and other documents related to your employment. These documents may prove that your company fired you without cause, demoted you, or threatened you with punishment or retaliation. In any case, these can contribute to a hostile work environment, making it harder for you to carry out your responsibilities.

  • Medical Files/Records. You can display declining health indicators if you're overworked or experiencing exorbitant quantities of distress due to retaliatory behavior. In California, you can sue for non-economic damages, so don't be afraid to add them as proof of the retaliation's repercussions.

That said, if you don't have access to these types of evidence, your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer can help you. Additionally, they might be able to get more evidence, either in the form of footage, documentation, and eyewitness testimonies.

How Does a California Employee File a Workplace Retaliation Complaint?

Employees in California can file a retaliation complaint through the state's retaliation statutes. To begin, the employee must disclose any grievances to their employer. Employers and public institutions in California are required by law to give employees with processes for dealing with legal difficulties. Legal action or claims may be brought against the employer or governmental organization if the complaint is ignored or if the employee who reported the matter is retaliated against.

After that, the employee should go to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and file a complaint (DLSE). State investigators will examine the employer's practices when a complaint is lodged with the DLSE. In most cases, an employee must file a complaint six months from the date of retaliation.

An employee can also sue their employer in civil court for retaliation in the workplace. To guarantee that the lawsuit is filed in the correct state, you should speak with an attorney. In most cases, the employment claim will be for wrongful termination or a whistleblower action. The employee will file a lawsuit against the company for monetary damages. After the workplace retaliation, the employee has two years to launch a civil claim.

The employee will be entitled to compensation if the employer is held guilty in civil litigation. These are usually monetary damages, such as lost earnings and benefits resulting from retaliatory acts. If your employer is found accountable, they may be obliged to pay all attorney's fees.

In some situations, the court will find that the retaliatory action was particularly malicious and will award punitive damages in order to deter the employer from repeating the behavior.

This is why you should have a California Employment Attorney on your side before you approach the appropriate agencies. You'll never know how your case will go down, and having legal counsel will give you access to advise on how to handle your predicament. Your attorney will be able to update you and tell you what and what not to do or say to help your case.

What Is A Compensation Claim In California?

Workplace injuries are covered by a compensation claim, commonly known as a workers' compensation claim. In California, workers' compensation regulations specify that if an employee is hurt at work due to a work-related accident, they may be reimbursed for their injuries unless the damage was self-inflicted while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Workers' compensation insurance is needed for most California firms to cover the costs of workplace injuries.

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Employees and employers alike benefit from California's no-fault workers' compensation system. It states that an employee cannot sue their employer for an injury and that they do not have to prove that the company is at fault. The sole stipulation is that the injury occurred at work.

An employer who retaliates against an employee who files a workers' compensation claim is breaking the law in California. Employers may refuse to pay for the injury's costs and retaliate against the employee to avoid having to compensate them. The Workers' Compensation Act was enacted in California to assist employees in seeking compensation from their employers for their injuries.

What If The Retaliatory Act Is To Fire You?

Although there are some differences, firing you for executing your legal rights is an act of retaliation. That said, depending on the circumstances, you could have grounds for both retaliation and wrongful termination.

A wrongful termination claim may be filed by an employee who was fired for discriminatory grounds, for exercising their legal rights, or for violating an employment contract. When an employer terminates an employee's employment agreement in violation of the employee's legal rights, this is known as wrongful termination.

Even though California is an "at-will" state, which means that an employer or employee can be fired at any time and for any lawful reason, with or without cause, and with or without advance warning.

Nonetheless, wrongful termination lawsuits arise in California when state and federal laws expressly prohibit employers from discharging employees for a variety of improper reasons.

According to California termination legislation, firing an employee for an illegal reason constitutes wrongful termination.

California State and Federal Laws

A few laws that protect you in California include the following:

  • The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

  • Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • The Age and Discrimination Act (ADEA)

  • The Equal Pay Act

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

  • The California Family Rights Act

  • The Healthy Workplaces

  • The Healthy Family Act

All of the above contain anti-discrimination provisions that support workers in California.

Both the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handle discrimination complaints (EEOC).

Discrimination based on Your Protected Class

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against or retaliating against employees who have exercised their legal rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Here's where you can learn more about FEHA.

Retaliation can entail firing someone for:

  • Notifying authorities of illegal acts;

  • Making a workers' compensation claim;

  • Making a health or safety complaint at work;

  • Disputes about underpaid pay or overtime;

  • Violations of the Labor Code, such as the neglect to give food or rest periods;

  • Concerns about patient safety (healthcare personnel);

  • Making a formal complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

If you were fired for any of the following reasons, contact a California Employment Attorney to help you file for claims and fight for your employment rights and protections.

Taking Time Off

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) mandates that employers with 50 or more employees provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 12-month period for the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child

  • The placement of a child(ren) in the employee's family for adoption or foster care

  • Any serious health condition of the employee's child(ren), parent, or spouse

  • The employee's own serious health condition.

Leave of Absence

Employees who are qualified for paid sick leave under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act may do so for the following reasons:

  • Diagnosis, at-home care, or treatment of an existing health problem of the employee or a covered family member

  • Preventive care for the employee or a family member who is covered.

Obtaining legal, medical, or social help for an employee who has been the victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.

Employees can accumulate and use up to 24 hours (three days) of paid sick leave every year. Total accrual cannot exceed 48 hours (or six days) per year, including carryover of unused accumulated time.

If you have been unfairly discriminated against, Wrongfully Terminated, passive-aggressively treated, threatened, or were retaliated against at work, you might have enough grounds to file claims and get compensation for past and future losses, back pay, front wages, past and future pain and suffering, and emotional distress damages.

Our prescreened and experienced Los Angeles Employment Lawyer understands that an Employment Law dispute can cost people their jobs and their money and emotional well-being.

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