Protected activities in the California workplace

Frank S. Clowney III

Federal and state labor laws prohibit discrimination against persons of certain groups or conditions in all areas of employment. Applicants and employees are protected from unfair and unreasonable workplace treatment. Additionally, employees are also afforded protection from retaliation related to making a complaint about discrimination or participating in an employment discrimination lawsuit or inquiry.

Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employee is punished by the employer for engaging in a legally protected activity. This punishment can take the form of a variety of negative job actions, including demotion, termination, suspension, salary reduction or relocation. Retaliation also can adopt a more subtle approach, such as threatening discharge, shifting a work schedule or excluding the targeted employee from meetings.

To make a case against an employer for unlawful retaliation, first, an adverse action against the terms or conditions of employment must be shown to have occurred. Then, it must be demonstrated that the retaliatory action took place as a result of the employee’s participation in a legally protected activity. The California Labor Code sets forth more than 30 such protected activities.

Just as an employee is protected from having to tolerate unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, so she is protected from retaliation for reporting those advances. She also is protected from any retaliation for exercising the right to take time off work to secure protection for herself or her children due to domestic violence. An employee also is protected from retaliation in California for taking time off work to appear at her child’s school at the request of the child’s teacher, using sick leave to care for an ill child, spouse or parent, or demanding equal pay for equal work.

Source:, “Retaliation/Discrimination”, September 15, 2014