California’s Labor Code is about to change. As of January 1, 2024, the code will take a step to expand protections for workers’ rights. The new law empowers workers to speak out about wrongdoing within the workplace and will help better protect working families throughout the state.
What is current law?
There are certain actions that employers are not allowed to take against workers, including retaliating against an employee for engaging in what is considered “protected conduct.” Three forms of employee protected conduct in California include:
- Unpaid wages.Section 98.6 of the California Labor Code states companies cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner to recover unpaid wages or for reaching out to request payment of said wages.
- Discussion of wages.Section 1197.5 makes it illegal for an employer to penalize workers for discussing wages or speaking out about disparate employee pay scales.
- Unlawful activity.Section 1102.5 prohibits retaliation against a worker who refuses to agree to participate in what they reasonably believe is illegal activity or for disclosure of such activities.
These are discussed in more detail, available here.
What does the new law change?
The new legislation updates the rules for all three forms of protected activity in two important ways. First, it shifts the burden to the employer by creating a rebuttable presumption in favor of the employee if an employer fires, demotes, suspends, or takes another adverse action against an employee within 90 days of the employee engaging in protected conduct. This strengthens the employee’s position when making a claim as it will require the employer to establish that it had a legitimate reason for the adverse action against the employee in order to defeat a claim of retaliation. In addition, with respect to conduct covered by Section 1102.5 (the third category above), the new law provides for a penalty payment to the employee directly of up to $10,000 for each violation, as opposed to having the employer make the payment to the state.
What are the legal remedies for a retaliation claim?
If the employee builds a successful retaliation claim, they can receive reinstatement as well as compensation for lost wages and benefits. Those who believe they are the victims of illegal retaliation are wise to seek legal counsel to discuss their options.