California is known as a state that provides numerous protections to workers. As a California employee, you are entitled to fair treatment at your workplace.
When you report illegal activities or practices at your workplace, or become a whistleblower, you might find yourself a victim of workplace retaliation.
Why employers retaliate
There are various reasons why an employer may retaliate against an employee. Retaliation can happen before or after you report illegal activities.
An employer may retaliate to intimidate or frighten you into not reporting an illegal activity or to punish you after reporting something. Even something small, such as talking with a manager or human resources representative about the situation could trigger retaliation.
Workplace retaliation comes in many forms. Being fired or laid off is an obvious form of retaliation, but other types of retaliation are more subtle.
Some additional examples of workplace retaliation include:
- Changed work hours
- Low performance reviews
- Pay reduction
California law allows whistleblowers to protect themselves and others from abusive, dangerous or illegal workplace situations. You have a right to report abuse, a hostile work environment, safety hazards, unsafe working conditions illegal or unethical practices.
You may hear that proving retaliation is difficult, and this is true. You must prove the incident that led you to become a whistleblower and the retaliation itself.
Write down and document everything
The strongest way to do this is through documentation. Document everything you can about what you discovered that caused your employer to retaliate. Save or store it in a safe place, preferably not on work equipment or anywhere else your employer may have access to.
Write down everything you can remember about any incidents that occurred involving retaliation. This includes dates, times, locations and any witnesses. Write down what your employer said or did and what you did in response.
Request that any future communications with you be in writing, whether through printed documents or email. If you are questioned as to why, say that you want to make sure you do not forget. The purpose is to create a paper trail.
Be careful with recording
You may be tempted to record conversations or incidents, but California is a two-party consent state. This means that you must have the other person’s permission to record them.
If you do not have their permission, any recordings cannot be used as evidence. You can request permission to record any conversations or meetings, but you should not record unless you get permission.
Employers can defend themselves against a claim of workplace retaliation by providing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action.
For example, if you were terminated or an adverse action was taken against you because of excessive tardiness, your employer could use your attendance records as evidence against you. If the records do show absences in violation of your employer’s attendance policy, your claim of retaliation may fail.
Standing up for your rights
Workplace retaliation can affect not only your current job but future employment opportunities. The effects of retaliation are severe and can cause mental health issues such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Employers who engage in retaliation should be held accountable for this behavior. Your actions can protect your rights and prevent the same situation from happening to someone else.