The Most Common Types of Workplace Retaliation: Your Rights in California

In the United States, employers are prohibited from harassing and/or discriminating against their employees by a variety of federal, state, and local laws. Exercising labor rights under any of these anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws is considered “protected activity.”

After engaging in protected activity in California, an employee is shielded from workplace retaliation by the Labor Code, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and other whistleblower protection statutes.

What is Workplace Retaliation?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace retaliation as an employer or company leader taking negative action against an employee who has filed a formal complaint about workplace discrimination or harassment. In 2019, 53% of all charges filed with the EEOC were workplace retaliation complaints, which have now surpassed race, gender and age employment discrimination.

Workplace retaliation can take the form of abuse, wrongful termination, and other adverse employment actions, including, but not limited to, an increase in workload, unfair demotions, firings, salary reductions, job or shift reassignments and leaving employees out of growth and mentoring opportunities within the company.

The most common forms of workplace retaliation include:

  • Left Behind – Keeping employees from attending meetings and other company events, or excluding them from workplace decisions and activities. This typically extends beyond simple social gatherings, and includes activities that affect an employee’s ability to do their job, such as training sessions or meetings where business decisions are made.
  • Getting the Cold Shoulder – Hostile or negative treatment from supervisors and/or fellow employees who may engage in ostracizing behavior.
  • Managerial Abuse – Verbal abuse by supervisors and management after employees engage in protected activity.
  • Almost Losing Your Job – Threatening to terminate employees after they engage in protected activity.
  • Losing a Promotion or Raise – Passing over employees for raises and promotions after they engage in protected activity.
  • Retaliation in the Workplace by Co-workers – Bullying, intimidation and verbal abuse from other employees.

What Constitutes Unlawful Retaliation in California?

Under California law, workplace retaliation is unlawful if your employer punishes you for engaging in protected activities, including, but not limited to: Reporting illegal conduct, refusing to engage in illegal conduct, reporting fraud, filing a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner, filing discrimination lawsuits, complaining of workplace discrimination or harassment, or assisting other employees in filing a lawsuit or complaint of illegal activity in the workplace.

Federal law also protects employees from workplace retaliation if a discrimination or harassment complaint is filed at work, or the employees engage in whistleblower activities. Common examples of whistleblowing include but are not limited to: Complaining of unsafe working conditions and complaining of unlawful conduct in the workplace.

What Should an Employee Do If They Believe They Are the Victim of Workplace Retaliation?

In some circumstances, employer retaliation will be obvious, such as being fired shortly after making a discrimination complaint. More often, however, the retaliation will be subtle, and may not raise a red flag for the employee right away.

Retaliation in any form is unlawful, so it is important that you speak to a knowledgeable employment law attorney who can explain your rights and tell you if you may have a workplace retaliation claim against your employer.

Different California workplace retaliation laws offer different options for employees who are retaliated against by their employer (lawsuits, damages etc.). If you feel you may have been a victim of workplace retaliation, we want to talk to you. Contact us online or call 310-205-2020 to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Lauren Abrams.


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