Though California is an “at-will” state, your boss cannot necessarily fire you for any reason. State and federal law prohibit employers from terminating or retaliating against employees on certain protected grounds. Workplace retaliation occurs when an employer unjustly penalizes an employee for engaging in a legally protected activity.
In California, your boss cannot retaliate against you if you:
- Report employer misconduct, including discrimination and wage theft
- Participating in an investigation involving employer misconduct
- “Blow the whistle” on illegal activity
- Refuse to do something unlawful
- Serve in the armed forces reserves
- Request a reasonable accommodation
- Contact an employment attorney
A California employer also cannot retaliate against you on discriminatory grounds. This means your boss cannot treat you adversely as a result of your race, religion, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other protected characteristic.
Some types of retaliation will be brazenly obvious. Your boss might make no secret of their intention to punish you for speaking out about a hostile work environment, for example. However, other employers may go to great lengths to disguise retaliatory behavior. If you notice that your boss appears to be treating you differently after you participated in a protected activity, you may need to be wary of possible retaliation. Below, we review 5 signs your boss may be retaliating against you.
Sign #1: You Are Being Excluded from Team or Company Meetings
Many employers regularly hold department or all-hands meetings to strategize and keep their teams up to date on company initiatives. Employers may attempt to isolate or sabotage the work of employees by deliberately excluding them from these gatherings.
If you are suddenly no longer being asked to come to regularly scheduled meetings you were previously invited to, you may be the victim of workplace retaliation. It can be tougher to stay connected to your team or understand your employer’s priorities if you are not in attendance, and your boss may be attempting to set you up for failure by making it tougher to do your job.
Consider a scenario where you have recently reported an instance of employment discrimination. Your company has standing weekly meetings to review progress and challenges. However, you find the meetings have disappeared from your calendar. After asking some of your colleagues, you learn that the meetings are still happening, but your boss claims your presence is no longer required. Because the content of these meetings is arguably critical to your adequately performing your job responsibilities, your boss’s attempts to exclude you may be a form of retaliation.
Sign #2: Your Performance Reviews Are Disproportionately Negative
Receiving a negative performance review is never fun, but your employer should always be able to rationalize their assessment. If your boss seems to be going out of their way to give you an unduly negative evaluation without offering any substantive or constructive feedback, they may be in the process of retaliating against you.
Performance reviews are often used to justify raises, promotions, and terminations. When your performance reviews are overwhelmingly negative, your boss has the leverage they need to deny an advancement opportunity or even defend your being laid off or fired. It does not matter that the assessments or tainted and do not reflect your actual contributions: On paper, the company understandably refuses to promote or fire an underperforming employee.
Say you recently came out as queer to your workplace. Your boss appears uncomfortable with this, and, at your next performance review, they claim you have failed to keep up with your work despite ample evidence to the contrary. Your boss might overemphasize a mistake or perceived weakness when you challenge their assessment. In this case, your boss may be retaliating against you on discriminatory grounds due to your sexual orientation.
Sign #3: You Are Denied Advancement Opportunities
Everyone wants to advance, but there are only so many promotions to go around. You may fight especially hard to secure a raise or a new, coveted position. Still, despite all of your efforts and objectively stellar performance record, you cannot seem to land a promotion.
Some employers will limit or prevent advancement on discriminatory grounds. Employers can also retaliate against employers by denying them expected or promised promotions. This type of retaliation is especially difficult to prove, especially if your boss has also been unfairly distorting your performance reviews.
For example, perhaps your boss assures you that you are a shoo-in for a new executive position. Before the promotion is official, your boss asks you to do something illegal. You politely refuse, and your boss claims they understand and that there are no hard feelings. However, you soon learn that you did not get the promotion, an outcome your boss claims is the result of ambiguous office politics. In this scenario, it is more likely that your boss retaliated against you for refusing to comply with an unlawful order.
Sign #4: You Are Being Asked to Do More Work
No one likes to take on more work, though doing so can sometimes be necessary. An employer can retaliate against an employee by requiring them to do substantially more without any increase in pay. These mandates always come with excuses, but your boss should not be forcing you to take on more demanding responsibilities without commensurately increasing your compensation.
This is not to say that an employer cannot ask its employees to do more without raises. You need to watch out for situations where you appear to be singled out. If everyone is taking on additional job responsibilities, retaliation may not be to blame. If your boss is exclusively requiring you to complete tasks outside your usual responsibilities, they may be retaliating against you.
Sign #5: You Feel Miserable and Want to Quit
If you were previously happy in your workplace but now find yourself wanting to leave, ask yourself why. Has your boss been treating you differently? Are you being isolated from your teammates, been asked to do increasing amounts of work, or denied opportunities you objectively deserve?
If you participated in a protected activity or some protected characteristic of your identity became apparent to your boss around the time circumstances started to change, consider whether covert forms of retaliation may be to blame. Employers are fearful of wrongful termination claims, and retaliation is often used to compel employees to quit on their own accord. You should never voluntarily leave a company if you suspect you may have been the victim of retaliation.
Attorney Bill Marder Can Help You Fight Workplace Retaliation in California
For over 25 years, Attorney Bill Marder has helped employees build cases against their employers. If you believe your boss is retaliating against you, you should immediately inform your direct supervisor or HR department in writing. If they refuse to acknowledge or resolve the problem, you should retain copies of all written communications and consider seeking legal representation. Polaris Law Group will work to build a strong case and recover compensation for emotional distress, lost wages, lost benefits, and punitive damages.
Attorney Marder has successfully secured millions of dollars of compensation for our firm’s clients. Contact us online or call (888) 796-4010 to discuss your case.