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California Employment Lawyers > Blog > Employment > The Basics of Workplace Retaliation

The Basics of Workplace Retaliation


You know your rights at work. You know what you deserve to be paid, and you understand your right to be free from harassment, abuse or discrimination. And you may even know when and if it’s happening to you.

And yet, you may opt to do absolutely nothing about it, for fear of your employer “punishing” you. After all, the last thing you need is for things at work to go from bad to worse—that would defeat the entire purpose of complaining about harassment or discrimination.  Or worse, you may fear getting fired for speaking out.

No Retaliation Allowed

But you don’t have to worry about that because federal and state laws make it completely illegal for any employer to punish you (retaliate against you) for asserting your legal rights.

In fact, your employer can’t even punish you, for speaking for on behalf of someone else—for example, if you reported sexual harassment or age discrimination that you observed in the workplace.

What is Retaliation?

An employer cannot punish you for asserting your legal right, or reporting illegal activity, or for engaging in something you have a legal right to do. Employees and applicants for employment in California have the right to exercise their labor rights without retaliation or discrimination.

We often think of retaliation as being punished for doing things like complaining about discrimination or harassment or for not being paid what the law requires for minimum wage or overtime.

But retaliation also includes protection for employees who are punished or retaliated against, just because they may need leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, or employees who make workers compensation claims, or even employees who file for bankruptcy.

Retaliation and Whistleblowing

Retaliation also happens when employers punish whistleblowers for reporting illegal activity at or in the workplace, even if that activity isn’t related to other workers.

For example, employees who report companies that may be evading taxes, or which may be illegally selling customer information, or which may be violating immigration employment laws, all are protected from retaliation.

It doesn’t matter what race or gender you are, and you don’t have to be a member of any legally protected class, or minority group, to be protected. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting legal rights or reporting illegal activity, no matter who you are.

Are You Being Retaliated Against?

It may be hard to tell when you are being retaliated against, because unlike with harassment or discrimination, there often are not any words, insults, or overtly demeaning activity in the workplace with retaliation.

The best course is to see if how you are treated after you make a report or complaint or after you engage in protected activity (like making a workers compensation claim, or reporting illegal activity to the government), is different from how you were treated beforehand.

That can include being demoted, being denied training, better work assignments, work flexibility, or beings denied any other benefit at work.

Other examples include:

  • Termination, suspension, transfer or demotion
  • Reduction in pay or hours
  • Disciplinary actions or threats
  • Unfair immigration-related practices
  • pay inequity based on sex
  • pay inequity based on race
  • pay inequity based on ethnicity

If you’re being retaliated against at work, we can help. Contact the San Jose employment lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm today.




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