As an employee of any industry in California, you have the right to a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. You also have the right to report harassment and discrimination without fear of adverse action from your employer. This same right applies to many other protected actions under US and California law.
It is unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees for reporting harassment, discrimination, safety violations, fraud and other illegal activities. It is also unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees for taking medical leave. Nonetheless, workplace retaliation is all too common across California.
If your employer has retaliated against you, the attorneys at California Employment Counsel, APC, are here to stand up for your rights. Our experienced employment lawyers can give you the knowledgeable guidance you need to navigate this sensitive legal issue.
Retaliation Takes Many Forms
A common form of workplace retaliation is wrongful termination, but employers retaliate in many ways against employees who have reported unlawful activities. Retaliation may include:
- Demotion. Typically, demotion is reserved for employees who cannot meet the performance expectations of their current positions. If an employee with a solid performance record is demoted in response to a protected action, this is retaliation. The employee could potentially suffer diminished income, reduced workplace benefits, and humiliation due to this type of retaliation.
- Unfavorable reassignment. Sometimes employers must rearrange their workplaces and reassign employees to streamline their operations. Some of these changes are reasonable and conducted impartially. However, if an employer reassigns an employee after the employee has performed a protected action, this reassignment could potentially constitute retaliation. If it poses additional stress or undue burden on the employee, then it could be retaliation. For example, if a company has two locations, and the employee works at the one closest to their home, the employer may retaliate against a protected action by transferring the employee to the farther location. This change would increase the commute time and impact their personal life.
- Negative performance review. Performance reviews typically determine pay rate increases in most workplaces. An employer may attempt to retaliate against an employee via a poor performance review. If the employee had a solid record of previous positive reviews and the timing of the negative review aligns with a recently performed protected action, this could be enough evidence to prove the employer engaged in a retaliatory action against the employee.
- Workplace harassment. “Harassment” is sometimes a nebulous term. It essentially applies to any behavior that generates a hostile work environment for the employee or makes it difficult for the employee to successfully complete their everyday job duties. Harassment may include excessive ridicule, demeaning comments, unacceptable jokes and references, or physical damage to an employee’s workspace, to name just a few possibilities.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the ways an employer may retaliate against an employee illegally. It can be very difficult to prove retaliation has occurred, and several other pervasive issues can make it seem impossible to hold an employer accountable for retaliation. Some employees may suffer unjustly from retaliatory employer actions without realizing it and without knowing their rights to compensation for these experiences.
At-Will Employment Issues
One common issue facing employees who are seeking legal recourse for retaliation is the existence of at-will employment laws in California and throughout the United States. These laws aim to prevent unhealthy and exploitative working relationships, as they stipulate that both employers and employees agree to employment arrangements on an at-will basis. This means that both parties have the right to end those arrangements at any time. They may not require a specific reason or provide the other party with prior notice.
At-will employment laws may aim to protect employees from being locked into restrictive employment contracts. In reality, they often appear to give employers carte blanche to fire employees whenever they like for whatever they like with no repercussions. Even if your situation seems hopeless, your employer may not need a reason to fire you, but they cannot fire you via retaliation for a protected action.
What Is Retaliatory Discharge?
Another potential outcome of retaliation is wrongful termination. When an employer fires an employee as a retaliatory action, this is typically considered a retaliatory discharge. An employer who intends to commit a retaliatory discharge will typically look for any leverage or excuse they can find to cover up the true intention behind firing an employee.
Most employees who have been targeted for retaliatory discharge do not even know it. The employer is watching, however, and will use any excuse to fire the employee. Don’t let this happen to you. Consult with an experienced employment law attorney to learn more about your rights.
Potential Damages from a Retaliation Lawsuit
If you have engaged in a protected action in good faith, such as reporting workplace discrimination to the EEOC or a workplace safety hazard to OSHA, your employer may take negative action against you in retaliation. When this happens, you will need to consult with an Orange County employment attorney to determine the best next steps to take.
Typically, wrongful termination claims must proceed through the claims process of the EEOC. This requires submitting a complete explanation of the situation in question and a full accounting of the damages claimed. If the EEOC reviews and accepts your claim, they will issue a Notice of Right to Sue, which allows you to proceed with a lawsuit against your employer.
Your retaliation lawsuit will be a civil action, and you and your attorney will need to determine which damages you intend to claim. Some employees who have been wrongfully terminated for retaliation simply want their old jobs back and compensation for wages and benefits they wrongfully lost. Other employers want to see systemic changes within their organizations. A retaliation lawsuit can lead to reinstatement, lost wage and benefit compensation, and disciplinary action against the individual or individuals responsible for the retaliatory action.
Modern companies are more alert than ever for potential scandals. A wrongful termination lawsuit can look very bad for any company once it becomes public, and most companies will attempt to settle wrongful termination and retaliation claims as quickly as possible.
Some employers may attempt to coerce an employee into private arbitration, especially if the employee’s employment agreement included an arbitration clause. This is a very one-sided arrangement as the company’s in-house arbitrator will likely seek to resolve the issue as quickly and quietly as possible while providing the employee with little to resolution or compensation. Remember that an arbitration clause cannot prevent you from exercising your Constitutional rights.
We Offer Free Consultations
If you have recently experienced retaliation at work, it’s understandable to have many questions about your legal options and to be confused about what to do next. An Orange County employment attorney is your best resource when you need compensation for the economic impact of illegal retaliation. The legal team at California Employment Counsel, APC, is here to help.
Have you faced medical leave retaliation or retaliation for reporting unlawful activities at work? The lawyers at California Employment Counsel, APC, are here to help. Contact us today online or by telephone at (714) 462-8376. Our office is in Costa Mesa and we serve clients throughout Orange County.