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What to Do if Your Employer Retaliates for Reporting Unsafe Work Conditions?

  • Published: March 20, 2023

In California, workplace retaliation is illegal. Retaliation in the workplace is where an employer takes adverse action against a worker because the worker exercised a protected activity, including reporting unsafe work conditions and refusing to work.

If a worker believes they’re working in hazardous, dangerous, or unsafe working conditions, they should report it to their employer in writing and express their safety concerns. If you report unsafe work conditions to your employer and they retaliate against you for doing so, you should immediately speak with an experienced California workplace retaliation lawyer.

How Are Workers Protected From Employer Retaliation? 

According to the State of California’s Labor Code section 6310, employers are prohibited from retaliating against a worker who:

  • Complains and reports health or safety practices or conditions at the workplace
  • Testifies in any proceedings that relate to the worker’s legal rights to healthful and safe work conditions
  • Practices any California or federal law that relates to occupational safety and health
  • Participates in any established Section 6401.7 occupational safety and health committee 

Workers are also protected if they make a report about a job-related injury, illness, or death or for asking for access to occupational illness or injury records or reports, unless the worker alleges retaliation because they have filed or have the intention to file a workers’ comp claim pursuant to Labor Code section 132 (a).

Examples of California Employer Retaliation 

Here are some examples of employer retaliation in California:

1. Termination or Demotion 

An employer may terminate or demote a worker as a form of retaliation for exercising a protected activity, such as reporting unsafe work conditions

2. Reduced Pay or Benefits 

Employers may reduce a worker’s pay or benefits as a form of retaliation for the worker’s protected activity. For instance, a worker who reports unsafe work conditions might end up seeing a decrease in their pay as a result.

3. Misclassification or Change in Job Responsibilities 

An employer might change a worker’s job responsibilities or duties in an adverse way to retaliate. For instance, a worker who investigates discrimination might have their job responsibilities or duties changed to make their job unpleasant or more difficult.

4. Hostile Work Atmosphere

An employer might create a hostile working environment for a worker in retaliation to the worker’s protected activity, including physical or verbal harassment, ridicule, ostracism, etc.

California employees must be aware of their legal rights and consult with a skilled employment retaliation attorney if they believe they are being retaliated against in the workplace for protected activity.

How to File a California Retaliation Claim 

Since workplace retaliation cases are unique, the procedures you must follow to file a claim may vary, depending on the law under which you’re making the claim against the retaliation, as there are several ways to file a California retaliation claim.

You might be required to approach different agencies or follow separate procedures. Your California employment attorney can advise you of your legal rights. They’ll guide you through the steps involved in the process of filing your claim with the proper federal or state agency. They’ll also assist you in filing a lawsuit if needed.

To file a California retaliation claim against an employer, you’ll need to follow some steps:

1. Establish Your Case 

First, you must prove that you even have a workplace retaliation case. You need to show that you exercised a protected activity, and because of doing so, your employer retaliated with a negative employment action. Some common forms of protected activities that may be considered in retaliation claims include:

  • Refusing to engage in illegal activities
  • Filing a complaint with a government agency
  • Opposing harassment or discrimination

In this case, you’d be filing a claim for employer retaliation for reporting unsafe work conditions. You’ll want to consult an employment attorney to determine if your situation qualifies as a protected activity. Some common types of negative employer retaliation actions include:

  • Demotion
  • Wrongful termination
  • Being subjected to hostile work environments
  • Decreased pay or benefits

While these are the more common forms of retaliation by employers, various other forms are often very subtle. Basically, any action taken by an employer that can be seen as a form of punishment to a worker who has engaged in a protected activity will likely qualify as retaliation.

2. Consult With an Employment Retaliation Lawyer

After establishing that you have a case, you’ll want to speak with a reputable California employment lawyer.

It’s crucial to obtain legal counsel when you file a complaint because of the numerous regulations and laws that might apply. Making mistakes or filing with an incorrect agency when filing your legitimate complaint could potentially forfeit your right to recover damages, so it’s essential you get the help of an experienced attorney.

3. Determine the Proper Agency or Procedure to Approach

You might be required to approach different agencies or follow separate procedures. Some types of procedures include:

Common Law 

For claims of retaliation that violate public policy, you have the right to file a tort lawsuit against the employer, meaning you can sue your employer directly in court with an employment retaliation lawyer by your side to act on your behalf.


For any form of retaliation that falls under FEHA, it’s required by law for aggrieved workers to file their initial complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). DFEH will investigate your complaint and provide you with a “right to sue” notice to allow you to file a lawsuit.

Whistleblower Retaliation 

Any victim of whistleblower retaliation that falls under the Labor Code 1102.5 LC is required to alert the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency first. Once you notify the agency and your employer through certified mail, your complaint will be investigated by the agency. If the agency chooses not to, you have the right to pursue filing a lawsuit within two years.

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ comp complaints must be filed within one year to the California division of Workers’ Compensation.

Occupational Safety and Health

You must file all occupational safety and health complaints with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement within six months of your employer’s retaliation.

False Claims Act

You have the right to file a lawsuit if your employer has retaliated against you under the False Claims Act.

4. Prove Your Employer’s Action Is a Form of Retaliation 

An essential part of a successful claim is to prove that your employer’s actions were indeed retaliatory. You must show that there was reasonable, good-faith belief on your part that you were exercising a protected activity that your employer then retaliated against.

Your employment retaliation lawyer can help you collect all the necessary evidence to prove the action taken by your employer was retaliatory. This could include evidence that shows you were demoted, fired, or placed in a hostile work atmosphere immediately after you filed a workplace violation complaint. Your lawyer will also help you gather all relevant documentation, including memos, emails, and personnel files that can help further prove the allegations you’re making.

5. Seek Compensation

Your last step is to pursue compensation and damages against your employer. Now, depending on the form of retaliation you experienced, you might be entitled to pursue compensation for:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits
  • Lawyer fees
  • Punitive damages
  • Pain and suffering

Also, it’s typically recommended to speak with a reliable employment retaliation lawyer before you take any kind of legal action. They’ll be able to help you gain an understanding of all your options. They’ll be able to advise you on what your best course of action would be for your specific circumstances.

Call KCNS Law Group in California to Schedule Your Consultation With One of Our Experienced Employment Retaliation Lawyers

If you’re a victim of employer retaliation because you reported unsafe work conditions, don’t hesitate to reach out to KCNS Law Group for assistance. Our skilled California workplace retaliation lawyers are dedicated to helping you seek justice and recover damages.

Call our law firm today at (818) 937-9255 or fill out our contact form for your free initial case evaluation.

KCNS Law Group LLP

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