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Retaliation threatens workers' rights

Posted on Mar 18, 2016
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In 2014, Worksafe launched an initiative to tackle the problem of illegal employer retaliation against workers who attempt to exercise their occupational safety and health (OSH) rights, such as reporting an injury, illness or hazard.

Both Cal/OSHA and federal OSHA have laws to protect workers who exercise their occupational health and safety rights. All workers have the right to report injuries, illnesses, and health and safety issues in the workplace without being retaliated against. Workers also have the right to refuse unsafe work if they believe there is the possibility of a serious injury or death. (See California Labor Code 6310 and 6311.) To learn more about your right to refuse unsafe work, and what is required for you to be able to exercise that right, check out our fact sheet.

Unfortunately, workers often find that when they do speak up, they face illegal retaliation.

What does retaliation look like?

It can come in many forms, such as:
- Being demoted;
- Being passed up for promotion;
- Having hours or work schedule cut;
- Being transferred to an undesirable shift, location, or job; and
- Being terminated, fired, or laid off.

If you are a worker who has been retaliated against, or you are trying to help a worker who has been retaliated against, you have six months in California to file a retaliation complaint with the DLSE. Click here to visit the DLSE’s retaliation complaint website.

All workers also have the right to file a federal whistleblower complaint with Federal OSHA. Under Federal OSHA, workers only have 30 days to file their retaliation complaint. Learn more about how to do it here.

There are also other remedies. Under federal law, workers are protected by twenty-two federal laws which include protection from retaliation for exercising rights about: Occupational Safety and Health, Asbestos, Clean Air, Safe Drinking Water, and much more. Learn more about all of these statutes by visiting the “Worker Protections” section of the Federal Whistleblower Protection Program Website.

Workers can also file their case with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if the worker exercised their rights with another worker and all of the workers experienced some form of retaliation. If you want to see whether or not your case would fall under the NLRB, review their guidelines here.

We can’t be confident that California’s workplace wage, safety, and health laws are effectively being enforced if workers are too afraid to even exercise their legal rights. If we don’t know how many people are being injured or made sick, or by what hazardous conditions, then we don’t have an accurate picture of the costs – financial, physical, emotional – of dangerous workplaces or what approaches to prioritize for prevention. That’s why we’re working to address the problem of illegal retaliation.

Our work to improve prevention and remedies for illegal retaliation includes:
- Providing free training to workers, worker advocates, and legal aid organizations on their workplace rights and how to file retaliation complaints;
- Leading administrative advocacy efforts with state and federal agencies to strengthen enforcement of retaliation laws; and
- Gathering stakeholders (workers, worker leaders, worker advocates, legal aid and private attorneys, union representatives, and government agencies) to meet and strategize on how to fix the system together.

Please contact our Legal Team, Jora Trang (jtrang at worksafe.org) or Nicole Marquez (nmarquez at worksafe.org) to learn more about our work, share a worker story, or join our fight.

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