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Handling employer-employee retaliation disputes

Disputes between employers and employees are not always easy to sort out, and this is particularly the case when it comes to discrimination and retaliation claims. Fortunately, there are relatively clear rules in place in terms of what employers may not do when an employee takes steps to exercise his or her rights under state or federal law.

The long and short of it is that an employer may not subject an employee to adverse treatment for trying to protect his or her own legal rights. Retaliation encompasses a wide variety of employer actions, including termination, demotion, suspension, and disciplining. Retaliation does not, though, include any and every situation in which an employee feels he or she has been subjected to retaliation. There are specific elements that must be met to establish a genuine retaliation claim.  

Under both federal law and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, there are three basic elements that must be established in any legitimate retaliation claim: (1) the employee engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer subjected the employee to adverse action; and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the employer's adverse treatment. Each one of these elements can be in dispute in a retaliation claim, and it is important for both employers and employees to understand the terrain of the law, especially areas that are unclear, so that they can better represent their case in court.

An experienced attorney will have a strong grasp of the case law surrounding retaliation claims and will understand how to advocate for an employee in his or her case. Likewise, businesses can protect themselves from potential retaliation claims by working with an experienced attorney when workplace issues arise. Doing so can help avoid the compounding effect retaliation claims often have on the work relationship.


Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "EEOC Compliance Manual," May 20, 1998

California Department of Industrial Relations, "Retaliation Complaint Unit," Accessed Jan. 16, 2015. 

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