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Workers don’t have to take employer retaliation lying down

Employers should respond to legitimate whistleblower activities from their workers by investigating and trying to fix any workplace problems that they find. Unfortunately, some employers would rather punish employees who speak up than make an effort to improve their business.

This is called retaliation, and it is against the law in California. Workers who are demoted, suspended, fired or otherwise harmed in their employment after performing certain activities, including some forms of whistle blowing, can file a complaint with the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

The DLSE investigates retaliation after a worker does a “protected activity.” These include filing a complaint with the Labor Commissioner on some matter, or threatening to; complaining about safety or health conditions on the job; and discussing your wages with co-workers or others. In addition, taking sick time to care for an ill family member or serving jury duty.

Someone who believes he or she was the victim of retaliation at work generally has six months to file a complaint with the DLSE, though there are exceptions, depending on the nature of the original complaint.

Upon receiving the complaint, an investigator from the Labor Commissioner contacts the worker. The investigation may involve interviews with the worker, the employer and any relevant witnesses. Then the investigator will prepare a written report and pass it to the labor commissioner.

The labor commissioner reviews the report and decides whether to proceed with further investigation. The commissioner may hold a hearing before a DLSE Hearing Officer, which involves testimony from both parties and witnesses, along with documentary evidence.

The worker may prevail at this level, or the case might get dismissed. If that happens, he or she has the right to sue the employer in court.