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Protection against employment retaliation in California

People often wonder why an employee might put up with years of on-the-job harassment or unfair treatment. One common reason for this is the fear that filing a claim or even just speaking to a supervisor about the issue could negatively affect the employee's position with the company.

It is important to know that California law offers certain types of protection from employer retaliation. If you have concerns about possible retaliation for addressing harassment or discrimination issues at work, consulting an experienced employment attorney can help you figure out the best approach for protecting yourself.

Protected activities

The law considers some types of activities to serve an important public interest and therefore deserve protection from adverse action employers may otherwise be tempted to take. An employer may not retaliate against an employee who files an official complaint, begins a lawsuit or complains based on issues of workplace safety, harassment or discrimination. Employers may likewise not penalize employees who report the employer's violation of laws or regulations or who provide information to government investigations.

Types of retaliation

Retaliation may take the form of termination, demotion, salary cuts, reduction in hours, systematic harassment, unfair discipline or assignment to inferior working conditions.

Disguising retaliation

Many employers, particularly in larger companies, know enough not to announce they are demoting you because you reported a health and safety violation or complained about harassment. Instead, they often try to justify any adverse action by business necessity or your own performance.

One common tactic is to begin writing you up for minor infractions and setting up performance plans they make it impossible to meet. This way, they build up a record of you performing badly, which would justify termination or other negative treatment.

Another is to make the work environment so unpleasant for you that you decide to quit, ostensibly of your own free will. This may constitute constructive discharge, which is also a prohibited form of retaliation.

Standing up for your rights

If you have reason to think you may be the target of retaliation, watch out for subtle signs the employer is building a case to justify any mistreatment. Speak with your attorney as soon as you can to protect your job and reputation.

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