What Are Retaliation Claims In California?

Updated: Jan 27

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. Employees in California have the right to initiate a lawsuit against an employer who embezzles, frauds, or steals government monies under the False Claims Act. 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 their age, race, color, sex, gender, and so on.

On the other hand, wrongful termination laws are intended to safeguard 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 type of reason, and the employee can quit at any time for any reason. However, while employers can fire "at-will" employees whenever, 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 been 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 that there is 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 on the part of 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 can show that you were fired for the same infraction that other employees are usually merely given a warning for or are not reprimanded at all for.

  • 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 as well as the acquisition of corroborating evidence to support your side of the story.

To help you organize your thoughts, 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 subjected to retaliation as a result of 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 fears 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. A practice of retaliatory actions against other employees who choose to disclose workplace difficulties is another example.


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 indicators of declining health if you're overworked or experiencing exorbitant quantities of distress as a result of 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 has six months from the date of retaliation to file a complaint.