Employees have legal rights given to them by state and federal laws. Some of those rights involve benefits of employment, like a minimum wage, unpaid time off for health problems, overtime wages, and more. Employees also have the right to work free from discrimination or harassment because of your sex, age, race, religion, national origin, disability and more.
Often, when people are denied their legal rights they will choose to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or in California the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Employees also may choose to contact an employment attorney to help with the situation.
Employers are usually less than thrilled when they are investigated for breaking state and federal employment laws. They are usually nervous about the prospect of facing a civil lawsuit or facing other penalties. In some cases, they may decide to try to “get even” with the employee who filed the complaint or called the attorney.
Choosing to “get even” with an employee who exercised his or her legal rights is called workplace retaliation, and it’s illegal. Under California law, workplace retaliation happens when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in a legally protected activity. Actions that could constitute workplace retaliation include being fired or forced into retirement, a reduction in salary or benefits, a change in job or supervisor, disciplinary actions and more. In addition to it being illegal for an employer to punish employees for making complaints about harassment or discrimination, it is also illegal for employers to retaliate if employees choose to participate in workplace investigations.
You may believe that an employer is retaliating against you, but you may not be sure. By law, in order to determine if you are being retaliated against you should look at the entire situation and all of the circumstances involved. If you are merely being snubbed by a supervisor because you complained about a coworker’s harassment, that may not be retaliation. However, if you have small children and you were moved to a second or third shift immediately after the complaint, that could be considered retaliation. If your employment situation has changed for the worse as a result of you exercising your legal employment rights, you may have been retaliated against.
There are some things you can do to stop workplace retaliation from occurring. You should talk to the HR manager or your boss to let him or her know what’s been happening, and give them a chance to explain the company’s position. They may not be aware of the retaliation, or there may be a good reason why certain things happened that are not an effort to retaliate against you. You should let the HR manager or your boss know that it is occurring and you wish for it to stop. If your employer knows that it is occurring, but denies it or refuses to rectify the situation, you may wish to contact an employment attorney or contact the EEOC.