Your Leave, Your Rights: A Guide to Defending Yourself Against Employer Retaliation

Imagine having to take time off from work to care for yourself or a family member. You learn about the FMLA and the CFRA, two laws that allow employees to get legally protected leave from work. But when you bring up the issue to your manager, they brush you off.

First, management tells you the law doesn’t apply to you or that you can’t take time off while the company is short-staffed. Then, after fighting to get the time off that is your right, you receive work while on leave or your boss continues to communicate with you before your leave expires. You then come back to a demotion, reduced pay, or a changed atmosphere in the office. You get assigned to lower-priority projects or start being excluded from team outings. You find yourself walking on eggshells around the office, maybe even getting written up for reasons you don’t understand.

This type of employer behavior is illegal interference and retaliation. Employees are covered by federal and California state law, with legally protected rights under the FMLA, CFRA, FEHA, and ADA. Your employer cannot interfere with your rights to leave or retaliate against you for exercising them. If you get targeted because you took protected leave or tried to access your rights, you could have a legal claim for damages against your employer.

What Is Retaliation Under the CFRA?

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) applies to California-based companies and employees seeking to take family and medical leave while the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can apply to companies or employees based outside of California.

If your company has more than five employees anywhere in the US (even if it is just one employee in California) and you’ve worked there for more than one year and have 1,250 hours of service in the past year, then you are entitled to take unpaid family or medical leave. The critical part of this law is that your job is guaranteed for you when you return. The amount of time that you’re entitled to under the law will depend on your circumstances but can vary between 12 weeks to 26 weeks. You can take time to care for yourself or a number of family members, including the birth of a new child.

Retaliation happens when your employer takes adverse or negative action against you for taking leave under the FMLA or CFRA. These adverse actions may include demoting or firing you, subtle shifts in treatment, new or different job duties that may not be imposed on your co-workers, or even outright hostility from superiors and coworkers.

Retaliation is a serious offense and companies can end up paying thousands of dollars in damages to employees who suffer from this type of toxic or hostile work environment. You have rights – and your employer cannot legally stop you or punish you for exercising your rights.

The Difference Between Interference and Retaliation Under the CFRA

Retaliation under CFRA and interference with leave under CFRA are two separate claims that could be brought against a California employer. Retaliation comes into play after you’ve taken FMLA, CFRA, or other protected leave. Interference happens when your employer tries to prevent you from exercising your rights, actively disrupts your leave, or discourages you from continuing to take your protected leave, either directly or indirectly.

For example, your employer may deny your request for leave without a valid or legal reason. Your manager may discourage you from taking leave because it could “hurt your career.” Your company may make you jump through unnecessary hurdles to get medical certification. Even if your leave is granted, your manager may require you to attend “mandatory” meetings or complete training or other tasks while you are on your leave.

If your company treats you this way, you could have a claim for damages for the employer’s interference with your leave and retaliation, too.

What Are Examples of CFRA Interference or Retaliation?

Some forms of interference and retaliation are more subtle than others.

  1. Failing to Notify You of Your Medical or Disability Leave Rights – Your employers must disclose and explain your rights as soon as you start working at their company.
  2. Delaying Approval of Leave – Your employer takes an unreasonable amount of time approving your leave request, causing you to miss important medical appointments, delay necessary treatments, or deal with a worsening condition.
  3. Requiring Excessive Documentation – Your employer demands that you provide them with extensive and unnecessary medical documentation before approving your leave. An employer may, however, require to submit a basic medical certification.
  4. Demotion or Job Termination – You’re fired or demoted to a less desirable position immediately after you return or within the next several months. Your employer assigns you tasks significantly below your qualifications and previous responsibilities while also cutting your pay.
  5. Negative Performance Reviews – You start receiving negative performance reviews or disciplinary actions that don’t reflect the actual quality of your work.
  6. Increased Scrutiny – Your supervisor starts micromanaging you after you return from medical leave, searching for minor infractions to use as grounds for disciplinary action.
  7. Hostile Work Environment – Your managers or coworkers create a toxic work environment through harassment, isolation, or unfair treatment designed to make you uncomfortable or encourage you to resign after your return from leave.

Recognizing the signs of interference or retaliation is crucial so that you can take steps to protect your rights. If you’ve experienced retaliation for taking FMLA or CFRA leave, then you can seek remedies and recover damages for everything you had to go through.

What Damages Can You Recover in a Retaliation Case?

If you’ve been a victim of retaliation, an experienced employment law attorney can step in to make things right. If you take legal action to recover for your losses, you could get the following types of relief:

  • Reinstatement – If you get fired or wrongfully terminated from your position, a court or settlement could give you back your previous job position.
  • Back Pay and Front Pay – Back pay is financial compensation that covers the wages and benefits you’ve lost as a direct result of the retaliation. If reinstatement is not possible in your case, you could also be eligible for front pay, which compensates you for future wages and benefits you would have earned had you kept your previous position.
  • Compensatory and Punitive Damages – In addition to any wages or benefits you lost, damages are meant to compensate you financially for any emotional distress, mental anguish, or suffering you had to endure because of your employer’s actions. If your employer acted especially poorly or with egregious misconduct, you could even receive punitive damages to punish the employer for their actions and deter future misconduct.
  • Attorney’s Fees and Costs – If you win your case, you could petition for your employer to pay your attorney’s fees and legal costs.
  • Injunctive Relief – In certain cases, California courts may order your employer to take specific actions to stop the retaliation, such as implementing anti-harassment policies.

Facing retaliation for taking medical or pregnancy leave can be emotionally distressing and detrimental to your career. However, it’s critical to remember that you have rights under state and federal laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act and California Family Rights Act – employers cannot legally interfere with those rights or retaliate against you.

You are not alone, and you deserve justice. There are laws in place in California to protect employees like you from unfair treatment. Your well-being and career deserve to be safeguarded, and Yash Law Group can help. Contact us now for your free consultation with an experienced employment lawyer dedicated to serving workers in Los Angeles and Orange County.

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