While the word retaliation has broad meaning in everyday language, when it is used in relation to employment law it has a specific meaning. Here are 3 things every employer and employees should know about retaliation claims in California.
In order to establish a claim of workplace retaliation, the following elements need to be evident:
Retaliation Claims Arise from an Employer’s Response to a Complaint
Under California law, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Labor Code, and the Family Rights Act, employers are prohibited from acting against employees engaging in “protected activities.” That means an employer is prohibited from firing, suspending, or taking any other type of adverse employment action against an employee because of the employee engaging in activities protected under the law, such as complaining of unlawful conduct (“whistleblowing”), refusing to engage in illegal conduct, or seeking to enforce a protected right. Examples include employee complaints regarding inaccurate wage statements, the lack of meal and rest breaks, and complaints of sexual harassment.
In these instances, the employer may be subject to a retaliation claim and may face significant damages, wage claims, and claims for emotional distress. Again, retaliation claims arise because of an employer’s retaliatory response to protected activity employee complaints.
Retaliation Claims are Different from Wrongful Termination Claims
Although retaliation allegations are often brought along with wrongful termination claims, it is important to note that retaliation claims are not the same as wrongful termination allegations. Wrongful termination claims involve claims wherein the employee believes they were unlawfully fired from employment. Retaliation claims are often broader in scope. While retaliation suits against employers can be filed for being terminated, suspended or demoted, retaliation claims may also include negative performance evaluations, ostracization, or for hours and pay reductions. Both types of claims are subject to statute of limitations, retaliation claims have a shorter window than do acclaims for wrongful termination
Document Complaints and Corrective Action
For either side to prevail, accurate documentation of the issues and actions of the parties must be thoroughly and accurately documented. Employers, at a minimum, should have written handbooks and policies in place for to properly address complaints. Proper written documentation, policies, and guidelines will affect the outcome of a retaliation lawsuit.
Should an employee file a retaliation claim, the employer will be best protected if documentation is available to prove the employee’s complaint was thoroughly investigated, addressed, and rectified, if appropriate. Of course, there is also a burden of proof for the complaining employee. Their claims must relate to complaints based on protected activities. If the employee’s documentation can show the business knew of the complaints but terminated the employee and took no corrective action, the business may be found liable.
California employment law is constantly changing, affecting both businesses and employees. The RJS LAW employment law team has experience supporting both businesses and employees. If you need help defending or filing claims call us today for a free confidential no-obligation case consultation. Call us today at (619)-595-1655.