Retaliation, in which one person responds to another person’s mean and harmful behavior with even meaner and more harmful behavior, makes an entertaining subject for movies and TV shows. In real life, retaliation is awful, and the law recognizes it as such. For example, California case law tells of divorce cases where one spouse spent all of the couple’s money and gave away marital property to punish the other for filing for divorce, but the courts did not let them get away with it. If engaging in self-sabotaging acts to hurt your ex-spouse is inappropriate, retaliation at work is even worse since it happens in an environment where people are supposed to behave like professionals. Employer retaliation can take many different forms and can arise from many different motivations. As with other kinds of employment disputes, the employer and employee may disagree about whether the employer was justified in its treatment of the employee. The San Francisco retaliation lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you if your employer has taken adverse action against you in retaliation for engaging in a legally protected activity.
Protected Activities and San Francisco Employment Law
According to federal and state employment laws, employer retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee in response to the employee engaging in a legally protected activity. The following actions by an employer are examples of adverse actions:
- Refusal to hire
- Undue scrutiny of the employee’s work
- Unfairly negative performance reviews
- Hostile work environment and harassment
- Denials of promotions or raises
- Demotion, reduction of pay, or undesired reassignment of job duties, work schedule, or work location
- Termination of employment
- Negative references to other employers with whom the former employee seeks employment
Adverse actions are acceptable, and even appropriate when the employee has engaged in misconduct or intentionally caused financial harm to the employer. If your employer takes an adverse action against you unjustly, though, you have the right to take legal action against your employer. For example, if the employer’s motivation for taking the adverse action was a personal characteristic of yours, such as your race, religion, or sexual orientation, then the adverse action counts as employment discrimination, which is illegal. If the reason for the adverse action is not misconduct, poor job performance, or a protected characteristic but rather because of a protected activity, then it is a case of employer retaliation, which is also against the law.
The following are examples of protected activities:
- Voting in an election
- Requesting a leave of absence from work pursuant to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim arising from an accidental injury at work or a documented occupational illness
- Reporting unsafe conditions at your workplace to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Reporting criminal activity at your workplace to law enforcement
- Complaining about discrimination either to the administration of your organization or to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- Participating in or cooperating with a civil or criminal investigation into incidents at your workplace
If you are not sure whether the incident that started your employer’s adverse treatment of you counts as a protected activity, contact a San Francisco employment lawyer.
Does an Adverse Action Count as Discrimination, Retaliation, or Both?
Sometimes there is more than one reason that an employer takes adverse action against an employee. Likewise, employment discrimination and retaliation are often not just isolated incidents but rather a pattern of unfair treatment of an employee or group of employees by an employer. For example, many employment discrimination cases follow a pattern where one or more work supervisors make derogatory comments about a protected characteristic of an employee or otherwise pick on the employee and make him or her feel uncomfortable. The employee usually does not complain about these comments, even though the employee would have the right to complain because being constantly belittled or ridiculed by an employer counts as a hostile work environment. Instead, the employee complains when something big happens, such as the employer taking disciplinary action against the employee without a justifiable reason or denying the employee a promotion for which the employee was eligible. When the employer finds out about the employee’s complaint, the harassment gets worse, and in some cases, the employer even fires the employee. These cases involve both discrimination and retaliation. If this has happened to you, you should first contact a San Francisco employment lawyer, and then your lawyer will advise you on communicating with the EEOC.
The Rights of Employees Targeted by Employer Retaliation in San Francisco
Employer retaliation is against the law. If your employer retaliated against you for engaging in a protected activity, you have the right to seek damages by filing a lawsuit. The damages you request may include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the financial losses you incurred as a direct result of your employer’s actions, such as the pay you missed out on when your employer denied you a raise for which you were eligible or for the time that you did not have any employment income, between the time that your employer fired you and when you started your new job. Non-economic damages are compensation for the non-financial ways in which your employer’s actions negatively affected your life; they are sometimes called pain and suffering or emotional distress. Non-economic damages most frequently occur in the context of personal injury lawsuits, but they are also sometimes applicable in employer retaliation lawsuits.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Employer Retaliation in San Francisco
The San Francisco employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if your employer fired you or took some other adverse action against you because you engaged in a protected activity. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in San Francisco, California, to set up a consultation.