Through the hard work of countless civil rights advocates, employees and concerned citizens, the American workplace has slowly but surely become an increasingly safe, ethical, and accepting environment. However, a considerable amount of work still needs to be done to insure that today’s workplace is a safe and non-discriminatory environment.
Regardless of the industry in which you work, it is highly probable that you will either experience or witness some type of workplace injustice. Although reporting misconduct to human resources or your supervisor can help, the truth is that more drastic measures, such as filing a complaint with the appropriate governmental agency, are often necessary to rectify the situation.
The biggest barrier to such action? Intimidation. Many employees fear that reporting a violation of workplace misconduct or improprieties will cause them personal or professional harm through some form of retaliatory action of their employer. Hopefully, the questions and answers set forth below will serve to clear up common misconceptions regarding whistleblower status for employees and help you better understand your rights as a California employee.
Where can I report workplace ethics violations?
A number of governmental agencies are dedicated to helping employees report instances of improper behavior and unsafe work environments. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) assists employees in filing formal complaints regarding discrimination and harassment. (Such cases can be filed in relation to race, skin color, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, citizen status, military affiliation, bankruptcy, genetic information, and disability.) Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) makes filing workplace safety violation complaints easy and straightforward. Finally, the California Departments of Fair Employment & Housing, Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Department of Industrial Relations work to insure that California employees are not victims of discrimination or harassment, work in a safe environment and fairly paid all wages due in a timely fashion.
Does my employer have a legal right to retaliate against a formal complaint?
No employer may retaliate against an employee for reporting perceived acts of workplace misconduct to a state or federal agency responsible for addressing issues in the work environment. For example, California Labor Code section 98.6 prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for filing or participating in a complaint for unpaid wages or overtime with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. The Fair Employment & Housing Act, FEHA, prohibits retaliation against an employee for complaining about or refusing to participate in perceived discrimination or harassment. (California Government Code section 12940[h]). Lastly, an employee may not be discharged for refusing to perform work under conditions where an employer’s violation of health and safety laws would create a real and apparent hazard to employees. Cal. Lab. Code §§ 6310, 6311
What constitutes employer retaliation?
Here are just a few of the most common employer actions that have been ruled instances of retaliation in the past:
- Blacklisting employees and sharing worker information with other organizations.
- Demoting employees and/or denying justly earned promotions or overtime opportunities.
- Implementing formal or informal discipline against whistleblowers.
- Failing to hire or rehire without any justification beyond whistleblower status.
- Denying benefits and/or reducing pay and hours.
- Intimidating, excluding, making threats, and/or insinuating that whistleblowers will suffer consequences.
- Firing, laying off, or reassigning employees to less desirable positions.
Learn more about wrongful termination lawsuits and other employment discrimination laws by visiting Perrin Law Group online today!