Employees in San Diego may be a victim of unlawful retaliation if their employer has punished them in any way for asserting their right to be treated fairly and free of mistreatment in the workplace.  The California Labor Code and Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit retaliation in the workplace.  Companies must ensure that employees are not retaliated against for engaging in “protected activity” at work.  Protected activities include whistleblowing, making complaints and opposing activity that you perceive as unlawful.  Employees have a right under California law to make complaints, ask questions and respectfully try to improve the conditions of their workplace.  If you or a loved one has been a victim of retaliation, you may be entitled to damages and compensation.


Under California and federal law, employees have a right to engage in “protected activity” at work, which means the right to protest and oppose unlawful workplace practices.  For instance, the law protects employees if they oppose any workplace conduct that they believe is discriminatory, harassing or otherwise illegal.  Opposition to such practices may be in the form of whistleblowing or other actions in furtherance of your belief that the company has acted unlawfully.  Employees may lodge a formal or informal complaint about a situation or practice that they believe is unlawful, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, or an offensive situation with a superior or coworker.


Protected activity is a broad term intended to encompass an employee’s good faith efforts to take action to improve working conditions or oppose unlawful actions:

  • Filing a complaint with a supervisor or coworker regarding sexual harassment or other unlawful conduct
  • Participating in an internal or external investigation as a witness
  • Consulting a lawyer to discuss conduct you believed may be unlawful
  • Resisting sexual advances or intervening to protect others
  • Asking for a raise or promotion
  • Inquiring about unpaid wages, overtime, or unreimbursed expenses
  • Asking managers or coworkers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages
  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in harassment or discrimination
  • Participating in a complaint process of any kind


Retaliation occurs if, after an employee complains about or opposes an unlawful practice, a boss or coworkers take adverse action against them. Retaliation takes many forms, some of which may be subtler than others:

  • Reprimand for an unrelated incident
  • Reduction in salary, benefits or hours
  • Transfer to a less desirable position
  • Increased scrutiny at work
  • False rumors about an employee or family member
  • Change in work schedule
  • Termination, lay off or involuntary leave of absence

An employee that is subjected to any type of negative treatment shortly after engaging in a protected activity should take steps to report the retaliation to the company.  Questions about unlawful employment conditions or agreements, such as noncompetes, are also protected under California law


Retaliation may be reported internally to company or externally as part of an administrative or judicial process.  Employees have options depending on the severity of your circumstances.  Employees have a right to gather any documents, emails, or reports regarding the protected activity or retaliatory conduct at issue.  Reporting unlawful conduct is a key component of a whistleblower or retaliation claim.


Whistleblowers and victims of retaliation who are successful on their claim can be awarded significant damages:

  • Back pay (for lost earnings)
  • Front pay (for future lost earnings)
  • Lost bonuses and commissions
  • Lost benefits (dental, medical, vision, etc.)
  • Lost pensions and retirement earnings
  • Hiring and reinstatement
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Policy changes
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Interest
  • Injunctive relief


If you are a whistleblower or believe that you have been unlawfully retaliated against, Ferraro Employment Law can help navigate these difficult waters from our San Diego office.  Contact us today to discuss your options.