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5 facts about workplace retaliation

Every employee in California has the right to stand up for themselves and their co-workers without fear of punishment from their employer. Retaliation happens when an employer punishes an employee for taking part in a "protected activity," and it is illegal. Here are five facts to help you recognize retaliation in your workplace

  1. What does retaliation look like? Retaliation can take many forms. Your employer can fire, demote or suspend you, or threaten to do any of those things. You may feel your employer is suddenly discriminating against you, leaving you out of meetings or even bullying you. Perhaps your hours are cut or your shift is changed.
  2. What is a "protected activity?" A protected activity is any activity you take as an employee to exercise a legal right under the California labor laws. Here are just a few examples:
    • Discussing your wages with other employees
    • Complaining about health or safety conditions
    • Filing a discrimination complaint
    • Talking to a discrimination investigator about another employee's complaint or appearing in court as a witness
    • Using sick leave or pregnancy leave
  3. What is a "whistleblower?" Many people discuss retaliation together with whistleblowers. A whistleblower is a person who reports an unsafe or illegal situation in the workplace to the authorities. Examples of whistleblowers include:
    • A factory worker reporting illegal dumping of toxic waste
    • A stock trader reporting insider trading to the SEC
    • A line cook reporting an OSHA safety violation These are only examples, however, and whistleblowing can occur in almost any industry. The law protects whistleblowers from retaliation for coming forward. Different rules protect people for whistleblowing in certain jobs, however. Some laws specifically protect people who work for the federal government.
  4. What can you do about retaliation? If you think your employer is targeting you for retaliation, you can file a complaint with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. In most cases, you must do this within six months of the retaliation.
  5. Filing a lawsuit. In addition to the complaint, you may choose to pursue an employment law claim against your employer.

Even though California law very clearly protects employees from retaliation, it still happens quite often. If you think your employer has retaliated against you, make sure you know what your rights are.

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