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What Is Considered 'Retaliation' at Work?


Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer takes any adverse action against an employee for an illegal reason. Retaliation under these circumstances is unlawful, and employees can sue their employers for damages that occurred as a result of any adverse actions.

What Is an Adverse Action?

When it comes to retaliation, an adverse action is any form of negative treatment or discipline an employee faces at work. This can include anything from harassment to termination. If an employee is fired as a result of illegal retaliation, they may also have a wrongful termination claim.

Other examples of adverse actions can include the following:

  • Reduction in hours
  • Wage or salary decrease
  • Unfairly negative performance review
  • Denial of benefits
  • Demotion
  • Placement on undesirable shifts

There are many more things that can happen at work that would constitute adverse actions. Although adverse actions often come directly from a supervisor or manager, they can also be indirect. For example, your supervisor may fail to intervene if you are being mistreated by coworkers. Inaction when a superior is aware of your situation could be considered an illegal adverse action.

Reasons Adverse Actions Are Key for Retaliation Claims

Most adverse actions aren’t illegal on their own, but they can be if an employer’s motivation is prohibited by law. Generally speaking, employers can’t act against employees because of their real or perceived association with a protected class or for engaging in a protected workplace activity.

For example, at-will employment makes it perfectly OK for an employer to downsize their workforce, but it can’t target older employees or those who talked about unionizing for termination. This is because employees aged 40 and older are considered a protected class and unionization efforts are protected by law.

A few other protected classes in California include the following:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Disability
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • Political affiliations or activities

Protected workplace activities include anything that any employee can do and is protected by law, such as unionization, reporting sexual harassment, demanding unpaid wages, and more.

Consideration for any of the factors above is illegal and must be put aside whenever employers decide to apply adverse actions. If they don’t, any affected employee can seek damages by filing a claim.

Did You Experience Retaliation at Work?

When employees experience unlawful retaliation in California, they can feel frustrated and demoralized. Despite the laws prohibiting illegal retaliation, it still occurs every day. That’s why it’s important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.

An employment law attorney can help you with your claim if you believe your employer punished you for an illegal reason. If you want to talk to someone who can help, reach out to one of our experienced lawyers at K2 Employment Law for assistance.

Schedule a free consultation with us when you call (800) 590-7674 or contact us online.