Numerous California laws protect employees against retaliation by their employers. Most of the anti-retaliation statutes protect employees from adverse employment actions ( i.e. demotion, transfer to a less desirable workplace, suspension, administrative leave or termination) for exercising their rights under Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), protected political activities, and wage claims.
One of the most common kinds of unlawful retaliation to which California employees are often subjected is FEHA retaliation. FEHA prohibits an employer from retaliating against employee for:
* Opposing any unlawful discriminatory practice prohibited by FEHA; or * Filing a compliant, testifying, or assisting in any proceeding under FEHA.
To maintain retaliation claim based on oppoisng an unlawful practice, employee only need to show that he or she had a “reasonable” belief that the employment practice he or she protested was unlawful. As the California Supreme Court pointed out in the leading case on the issue, Yanowitz v. L’Oreal USA, Inc. (2005), firing an employee who refused to follow order which he reasonable believed was unlawful, was unlawful retaliation and constituted wrongful termination even though it was later found that the order given did not involve anything illegal.
It is important to point out that unlawful retaliation doesn’t always involve wrongful termination. Under FEHA an “adverse employment action” is any action that materially affects the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Thus, even unfavorable transfer to a less desirable workplace or any other less drastic action by employer than firing an employee may be considered unlawful retaliation.