Retaliation in the Workplace is Illegal
Am I a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an individual who reports, challenges, and/or complains of, illegal or unsafe work conditions to his or her employer or a government agency or a law enforcement. Such reports and/or complaints are known as protected activities. California law protects employees from retaliation for engaging in the following types of protected activities:
- Reporting Civil Rights Violations: such as complaining of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, or participating in workplace investigations as a witness
- Reporting Unsafe Work Conditions: such as reporting substandard patient care or illegal practices
- Reporting Illegal Activities: such as fraudulent billing practices
- Reporting Wage and Hour Violations: such as complaining about not receiving proper meal and rest breaks, not being paid overtime, or being misclassified as an independent contractor
How Do I Know If I am Being Retaliated Against?
Retaliation often follows protected activity within a short time and begins with a series of subtle actions often culminating in a wrongful termination. An employer who is set on retaliating against you will generally attempt to make life very difficult for you at work to force you to quit. Signs that a termination is imminent include the following:
- You begin to receive undeserved negative performance reviews
- You are no longer invited to important meeting
- You are left out of important phone conversations
- Your workload is substantially increased
- Your key, long-term clients or accounts are reassigned to other employees
- Your expense accounts are rejected or questioned
- You are denied a promotion or a raise your were expecting
- Your reputation within the office is undermined by unfair criticisms
- You are harassed at work and/or your work environment is hostile
How Can I Prove Workplace Retaliation?
Workplace retaliation is proven with the following burden shifting standard. First, the burden is on you to demonstrate what is called a “prima facie case.” To meet this burden, you must show that: (1) you engaged in “protected activity,” (2) your employer subjected you to an “adverse employment action,” and (3) there is a causal link between the two.
For purposes of this analysis, you must at least have a reasonable suspicion that your employer is violating the law. You might be able to demonstrate a causal link by citing circumstantial evidence such as the employer’s knowledge that you engaged in protected activity, and the proximity in time between your protected activity and the allegedly retaliatory employment decision. Other evidence relating to your employer’s motive for retaliating against you may also be relevant. Also, keep in mind that for an employment action to be adverse, it must materially affect the terms and conditions of your employment.
Once you demonstrate a prima facie case of retaliation, the second component of the analysis shifts the burden of proof to your employer to present a legitimate non-retaliatory explanation for its actions against you. Employers often cite poor performance, insubordination, company wide reorganizations, and/or elimination of the position.
If an employer meets this burden, the third and final step of the analysis requires you to demonstrate that the employer’s explanation is merely a pretext for the retaliation. The foregoing was a simplistic overview of a complicated legal analysis. If you have concerns that you are being retaliated against, we urge you to contact an attorney.
For more information about California laws relating to wrongful termination, please visit the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If you have been wrongfully terminated in retaliation for engaging in protected activities, contact us immediately. Our offices are located in Los Angeles and Culver City. To take advantage of all of your legal options, you must act quickly. California has strict deadlines for pursuing legal action.