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What Is Considered Employer Retaliation in California?

Emanuel Shirazi

The privilege to work in California is a right granted to all state citizens. California believes in its workforce so much that they have enacted several employment laws to protect workers. One such protection is from employer retaliation. This occurs when an employee reports a workplace violation, such as harassment, discrimination, or wage and hour discrepancies, and is then subject to unfair treatment from their employer.

Some employer retaliation is disguised through legal means, however, so it is important to know how to recognize illegal behaviors in order to protect yourself and hold your employer accountable.

What Is Employer Retaliation?

The rights granted to employees in the workplace are protected, and every employee in that organization has the right to exercise those rights. When an employee chooses to exercise those rights, they are protected from any adverse action an employer may take against them for doing so. This can be done directly by the employer, or it could occur through a supervisor or manager.

An employee who experiences retaliation is not at fault for the actions their employer takes. In California, employees are encouraged to speak up and report violations committed by their employers. These types of violations could include reporting discrimination observed or experienced, taking their legally allowable medical leave, refusing to perform an action considered illegal or unethical, reporting safety violations, and more.

These reports are designed to keep the workplace safe, allow an employee to care for their own well-being, and more. When an employee reports a violation, it is for the protection of not only themselves but of their coworkers.

Examples of Retaliation

Retaliatory acts taken by an employer against an employee can look many different ways, but each is illegal. However, because California is an “at-will” work state, you and your employer can separate from one another for any reason and at any time. This opens the door for some employers to mask their retaliation inside what may appear to be a legal means of separation. However, an employer cannot fire an employee on grounds that contradict labor laws.

Employer retaliation is any adverse job action that is taken against you by your employer, supervisors, or other managers. Retaliation can be small, considerably mild acts, or it could be significant and can cause life-altering ramifications. Examples of employer retaliation include:

  • Wrongful termination
  • Demotion
  • Pay cut
  • Cut in hours
  • Performance reviews that are undeservedly negative
  • Change in job tasks to duties that are less desirable
  • A change in shift to one that is less preferential
  • Denying job benefits that you are otherwise entitled to
  • Being passed over for a raise or promotion after meeting the qualifications
  • Being withheld from training opportunities that will help to advance your career
  • Changing your workload to be significantly more without justification

This small list of workplace retaliation examples is by no means an exhaustive inclusion of all types. Sometimes, employers will use these tactics in an effort to force your resignation. However, an employer who attempts to use these tactics in such a way risks facing a claim against them for any number of employment law violations.

What Are Protected Activities?

Protected activities are the specific courses of action an employee can engage in while under the protection of the law. These are the foundation of employer retaliation laws and can keep employees safe in their employment. These activities are provided by the California Department of Industrial Relations. These are a few of the protections under anti-retaliation laws:

  • Public policy. Retaliation against an employee who exercises their right not to violate public policy is illegal. Public policy is a common law that a reasonable person understands to be for the greater good. These decisions are considered fundamental and are constitutionally or statutorily protected.
  • Constitutional or statutory rights and privileges. The privileges allotted to you by the law are legally protected. Such rights and privileges could include your ability to take leave for family or medical reasons.
  • Reporting violations. Your employer may commit violations against you or against public policy. Reporting such behaviors, such as violating trusts, is protected.
  • Refusing to commit a crime. Sometimes, an employer may ask their employee to perform an act that is considered illegal or unethical. Refusing to do so is the right of the employee.
  • Performing a statutory duty. If you are asked to perform a duty, such as serving on a jury, you are protected from your employer.

These are just a few examples of protected activities that keep employees safe from retaliation at the hands of their employers.


Q: What Counts as Retaliation in California?

A: Retaliation occurs when an employer, supervisor, or manager intentionally punishes an employee while they are engaged in a legally protected act. Such acts range in nature and include actions such as reporting workplace violations of your employer, using your family or medical leave or reporting harassment or discrimination.

Q: Can I Sue My Employer for Retaliation in California?

A: Employees who are subject to employer retaliation have the right to sue their employer for violation of their rights. An employment attorney will walk you through the process, but it is important to ensure you collect evidence to help support your claim. This can include performance records, schedule records, communication, witnesses, and more.

Q: What Are Three Examples of Retaliation?

A: Many acts of retaliation are subtle, accidental, or hidden in what could be considered legal activities. Examples of employer retaliation include termination, transferring to a less desirable position or schedule, or being subjected to abusive physical or verbal behaviors.

Q: What Are the Three Elements of Retaliation?

A: The most successful claims of employer retaliation are able to prove three elements. First, the employee who experienced the retaliation was engaging in a protected activity. Second, there was adverse action taken against the employee by the employer. Third, there is a provable way to connect the protected action and the adverse action.

California Employer Retaliation Attorney

Employees may be unaware they are subjected to employer retaliation until it is too late. Understanding the dynamics of such behaviors can help you protect yourself. If you feel you have been the victim of employer retaliation, get help from an experienced employment attorney who can help ensure that your workplace rights are protected. Contact Shirazi Law Firm, PC today.

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