When employees in California witness or experience inappropriate or discriminatory behavior in the workplace, they may want to take action but be concerned about the potential to face retaliation. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted that retaliation is a common form of discrimination in and of itself. Equal employment laws prohibit workers or even job applicants from being punished or targeted because they complained about discrimination or asserted their rights regarding workplace harassment. Employers that fire workers, cut their hours or deny them raises as a result of raising these issues are violating the law.
There are a number of protected activities for which employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees. These include filing a complaint with the EEOC, participating in an investigation or pursuing a lawsuit; witnesses are also protected. It is also illegal to punish employees for answering questions during a harassment investigation at the company. Workers have the right to refuse to follow discriminatory orders, to refuse sexual advances and to proactively intervene to help others being targeted for harassment and discrimination. Employees also have the right to ask other workers about their wages, as this is a mechanism to uncover discrimination in pay that may go otherwise unrevealed.
Despite these legal protections, workers continue to face various forms of retaliation for any or all of these activities. As employers are permitted to penalize, discipline or fire workers for reasons unrelated to the discrimination or harassment, they may claim that there was another, independent cause for the retaliatory activity.
Workers continue to face serious problems with employment discrimination and sexual harassment, and the threat of retaliation can be one of the most significant issues. An employment law attorney might help employees to protect their rights under the law and seek justice for the damages they have suffered.