California employment retaliation occurs when employers unlawfully punish workers for engaging in lawful activities, such as filing a complaint for sexual harassment, cooperating with an OSHA investigation, or filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Oftentimes, employer retaliation involves the use of pretextual reasons to justify the adverse employment action. For example, the employer may indicate the adverse employment action is justified by an employee’s poor work performance, when in reality, the motivation was retaliation for “rocking the boat.”
Many studies have established that workers in low-paying industries are especially prone to wage and hour violations, unsafe working conditions, and unlawful discrimination. They are also more likely to be retaliated against if they speak out.
Because retaliation is rarely blatant, it can be difficult to prove. As Los Angeles employment lawyers, we recognize the obstacles that wronged workers face in proving their retaliation claims. We also have the skill, experience, and resources to help them establish the truth in a court of law.
Targeting Workplace Inequalities By Tackling California Employment Retaliation
A recent report prepared by the National Employment Law Project examined the widespread problem of California employment retaliation, noted some of the reasons unlawful employment retaliation persists despite laws and accountability through litigation:
- Power imbalances between workers and their employers.
- Financial instability among workers, particularly those in lower-wage jobs – especially those who are immigrants. Threats of being reported to immigration authorities or simply the risk of bearing a substantial financial burden for speaking out keeps workers silent.
- California’s system of “at-will” employment that allows employers to fire workers for almost any reason (or no reason at all) – so long as it’s not discriminatory or fall under some other categorization that’s prohibited (such as retaliation). It creates an environment of fear that undercuts workers’ ability to speak up about unlawful treatment, inequality, or unsafe employment practices.
One piece of the study involved a survey of 1,000 individuals who represented California’s workforce (reflecting the diversity of age, race, religion, gender, incomes, etc.). Among the results:
- While nearly 4 in 10 said they’d experienced a workplace violation, only 10 percent of them reported those violations to the appropriate government agency.
- Of those who reported the violation, 53 percent said they experienced retaliation from their employer.
- More than 40 percent of workers (including 46 percent of Latinx workers and 55 percent of Black workers) said worry about retaliation prevented them from joining or helping co-workers in pushing for workplace safety improvements.
The group suggested a few solutions that could help address the issue in California. Among these:
- Establish a state “retaliation fund” that would give workers immediate resources to stay afloat financially if they were penalized for exercising their rights as an employee.
- Coalesce all the state’s anti-retaliation employment laws under a single statute under the Labor Code so that workers’ rights would be made clear and protections would be the same across-the-board.
- Lawmakers establish a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if the adverse employment action takes place within 90 days of engaging in a lawful activity (such as blowing the whistle on unsafe conditions, reporting unfair pay, calling out managers for racism, etc.).
- Ensuring that penalties imposed for workplace retaliation are paid to the worker, rather than the state’s general fund.
- Provide more funding to the Retaliation Complaint Investigation Unit of the California Labor Commissioner’s Office.
- Change California law to require employers to cite a just cause for terminating employment.
Our Los Angeles employment lawyers believe that this is an issue that requires attention because retaliation impacts far more than just the workers directly involved. When workers can’t speak out about workplace injustices or safety issues, it impacts the worker, their family, their community, and society as a whole.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
How California can Lead on Retaliation Reforms to Dismantle Workplace Inequality, November 2022, National Employment Law Project
Laws that Prohibit Retaliation and Discrimination, California Department of Industrial Relations