A summary of what constitutes workplace retaliation prohibited under California law.
What is Workplace Retaliation?
There are a number of laws that deal with employment retaliation and discrimination. They can be complex and confusing. But, the main thing to keep in mind is that retaliation in the law is different than the way that word is used in common parlance. Two of the main laws that protect against retaliation are the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("the FEHA") and California Labor Code s. 1102.5. Both of these laws prohibit an employer from taking retaliatory actions against an employee because he or she engaged in a protected activity by reporting conduct that they believed was against the law.
What is a "Protected Activity" Under the FEHA?
A "protected activity" under the FEHA is some act by the employee that communicates to a supervisor, manager, or even possibly the Human Resources Department that they reasonably believe that someone is engaging in discrimination or retaliation against themselves or another employee. In other words, the communication, protest, or complaint has to be about discrimination or retaliation on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or another protected characteristic.
What is "Protected Activity" under the Labor Code?
A "protected activity" under the Labor Code means that the employee refuses to do something that they reasonably believe is illegal or they protest against something that they reasonably believe is illegal. An example of this is where a supervisor asks an employee to falsify information on a bank document and the employee refuses.
What if I Did Protest, Complain, or Refuse to Do Something and I am Demoted?
Once you have engaged in a "protected activity" by protesting, complaining, or refusing to do something that you reasonably believe is illegal, the laws protect you against retaliation. The employer's demotion is called an "adverse employment action." What that means is that the employer took action against you which affected the terms, conditions, or benefits of your employment. That is illegal.
How Do I Protect Myself Against Retaliation?
Make sure that you document everything. The second most important thing is to make sure that you report the retaliation right away either to a supervisor or to someone above the person who you believe is retaliating against you. Hopefully, that will solve the problem. If it does not, then you need to contact an experienced attorney knowledgeable in these types of cases to discuss you rights.
Additional resources provided by the author
The State of California Department of Industrial Relations website has a listing of laws that prohibit relation and discrimination.
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