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Understanding retaliation in the workplace

As an employee in California, you are afforded certain rights and protections under federal and state employment laws. When an employee engages in a protected activity such as filing a complaint relating to illegal activities in the workplace, and an employer takes negative action against them to get back at them for ‘ruffling feathers’ at work, the employer has engaged in unlawful retaliation and could be liable for damages.

What are the elements of retaliation?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are three basic elements of unlawful retaliation: adverse action by the employer, protected activity by the employee, and a causal connection between the adverse action and the protected activity.

  • Adverse action – An adverse action is any job-related action taken by the employer that negatively impacts the employee. Common examples of adverse action include demotion, reduction in pay or hours, reassignment to undesirable shift, and termination of employment.
  • Protected activity – To establish the ‘protected activity’ element, an employee must have either engaged in a protected activity, or activity protected under the law, or opposed illegal employer activity. Common examples of protected activity may include filing a complaint of discrimination or harassment, participating in an EEOC investigation, and reporting an employer’s illegal activity to law enforcement.
  • Causal connection – The employee must show that the adverse action taken against them by their employer was a direct result of their participation in the protected activity.

You have the right to speak out against your company’s wrongdoings without fear of retaliation. If you were retaliated against by your employer, an employment law attorney can be extremely helpful when it comes to filing and proving your claim.