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Retaliation by employer may give rise to claim for damages

California employees are entitled to a number of important rights under both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the state's Labor Code. For example, one of the most important such rights is the right to receive paid overtime for work performed in excess of 40 hours per week. Not uncommonly, some employers will attempt to circumvent these laws and refuse to pay overtime to employees who are entitled to it or deny other rights under the law. If the employee should complain to either the employer or a government agency, the employer may retaliate by either discharging the employee or imposing onerous working conditions as a means of punishment. However, retaliation in such situations is prohibited by state and federal overtime laws, and in this post we will provide a summary of these violations and remedies available to employees.

Section 15(a)(3) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines retaliation as a discharge or discrimination "against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act generally." This definition is very broad, and it essentially covers any action by an employer intended to punish an employee for exercising his or her rights under the FLSA. A plaintiff can seek to recover his or her job and pursue back pay and attorneys' fees.

The California Labor Code contains a similar provision that prohibits discrimination, retaliation or any other action against an employee because the worker made a bona fide complaint to enforce rights under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner, including the right to receive paid overtime. An aggrieved employee can either file a claim with the Department of Industrial Relations or commence an action in court. The statute imposes a number of different penalties depending upon the type of violation involved in the case.

Persons who feel they have been targeted by their employer for taking action to enforce their rights as employees may wish to consult an employment law attorney. Such a consultation can provide a useful analysis of the facts and law that apply to the case and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering lost wages, compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.

Source: American Bar Association, "Retaliation Under the Fair Labor Standards Act," accessed on Oct. 30, 2016

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