Retaliation is when an employee is punished because of some protected activity. Anyone who engages in protected activity is called a “whistleblower.”

Protected activity for California employees includes telling the employer that it is breaking any law (any federal, state, or local statute, rule, or regulation – pretty much any law anywhere in the United States) and it includes refusing to so something that would violate a law.

By stepping up to warn people–their bosses or government regulators–whistleblowers help us to avoid disasters. California has more laws than most states, and not every law seems to make sense. But every law was passed with a purpose. And even if your crooked boss doesn’t understand why California has laws about what you can do with toxic waste, there are real-world consequences to lawbreaking. When a company is cooking the books, it could go under–and wipe out the retirement savings of millions. When a company mishandles toxic waste, it can destroy part of the environment and make people sick. Whistleblowers are heroes.

It is illegal for a California employer to make a rule prohibiting employees from contacting the government about lawbreaking. Except in very limited circumstances, a California employer cannot make a rule that stops you from contacting Cal-OSHA about unsafe working conditions, or contacting law enforcement about a suspected crime.

It is illegal to retaliate against someone because they blew the whistle at a past job. It is illegal to blacklist whistleblowers from employment.

It is also illegal to retaliate against someone because their family member engaged in protected activity. “[T]o retaliate against a man by hurting a member of his family is an ancient method of revenge, and is not unknown in the field of labor relations.” Judge Posner, NLRB v. Advertisers Mfg. Co. (7th Cir. 1987) 823 F.2d 1086, 1088.

Victims of retaliation can try to collect money damages for lost wages, lost bonuses, for having their work hours cut, emotional distress, and other things. Victims of retaliation can also seek reinstatement if they have been fired.

If you are concerned that you have been the victim of retaliation, I recommend that you talk to an experienced employment lawyer today for a free consultation.

If you are concerned that you might become the victim of retaliation, I recommend that you talk to an experienced employment lawyer today for a free consultation about whether you should make a complaint, and how you could make the complaint–so you can try to protect yourself (and your family, if they depend on your income) while you do the right thing.

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