Because California is an at-will employment state, private-sector employers can legally change an employee’s status at any time. An employer can reduce hours or pay if the reason behind the reduction does not violate federal or state laws.
Reducing an employee’s hours or pay because the employee complained is retaliation and a violation of California’s retaliation and discrimination laws. Your employer cannot reduce your hours or pay because you filed a complaint.
Understanding workplace retaliation
Workplace retaliation is any adverse action taken by an employer against an employee because the employee exercised a protected right or engaged in a protected activity. The adverse action does not necessarily have to come from your employer. Often, the person who takes adverse actions against you is the one you complained about, especially when their position gives them power and authority. Adverse actions include:
- Terminating the employee
- Reducing the employee’s hours or pay
- Demoting the employee
- Suspending the employee
- Denying a promotion
- Denying benefits
- Threatening the employee with adverse actions
- Giving the employee unreasonable performance reviews
- Making working conditions hostile or unbearable for the employee
- Harassing the employee
Other forms of retaliation can be more subtle. Usually, it is a noticeable change in treatment. The employer or a supervisor you complained about may increase your workload, exclude you from meetings or give you undesirable shifts. An employee should be able to enforce their labor rights without worrying about retaliation. It is illegal under California labor laws for an employer, supervisor or direct superior to punish you in any way for participating in protected activity.
Filing a complaint about discrimination is a protected activity
One of the most common reasons an employee files a complaint is because they experienced or witnessed discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace. You should know that you have a right and duty to report it without worrying about how it will affect your career.