New Laws

Retaliation Claims Get Stronger

Governor Brown just signed SB-306, which significantly strengthens retaliation claims. Employers cannot discharge, discriminate, retaliate, or take adverse action against employees because they engaged in specified protected conduct. Aggrieved employees can seek reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits. Employees can file claims with the Labor Commissioner or pursue a case in court.

Retaliation Claims by Labor Commissioner

Under amdned Labor Code 98.7, the Labor Commissioner can pursue retaliation claims even if no one complains.

The division may, with or without receiving a complaint, commence investigating an employer, in accordance with this section, that it suspects to have discharged or otherwise discriminated against an individual in violation of any law under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner.

The Labor Commissioner can petition the court for injunctive relief, including reinstatement. The court must order injunctive relief if “reasonable cause exists to believe that an employee has been discharged or subjected to adverse action for raising a claim of retaliation or asserting rights under any law under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner.” The court must consider the “chilling effect” on other employees when determining the appropriate injunctive relief.

An employer that refuses to comply with the injunctive relief can be fined “one hundred dollars ($100) per day for each day the employer continues to be in noncompliance with the court order, up to a maximum of twenty thousand dollars ($20,000)

Retaliation Claim Process

New Labor Code section 98.74 describes specific timelines and processes for retaliations claims by the Labor Commissioner. The Labor Commissioner issues a citation in writing, describing the nature of the violation and the amount of wages and penalties due. The citation must also include any and all appropriate relief, such as cease and desist orders, rehiring or reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest thereon, and posting notices to employees.

Employers have 30 days to request  hearing, or the citation becomes final. The hearing must proceed within 90 days. There is no mechanism for conducting discovery before the hearing, and no limit on how short or how long a hearing can last. The decision must be issued within 90 days of the conclusion of the hearing. The decision must contain a statement of findings, conclusions of law, and an order.

Employers dissatisfied with the results can file a writ of mandate with the superior court within 45 days. Employers must also obtain a bond “equal to the total amount of any minimum wages, liquidated damages, and overtime compensation” owed.  The bond does not have to include penalties. The order becomes final when no writ is filed.

Employers refusing to comply with a final order are subject to penalties of $100 per day per employee, up to $20,000. The affected employees receive the penalties.

Retaliation Claims by Employees

SB-306 allows employees bringing retaliation claims to include requests for injunctive relief. Courts are directed to issue injunctive relief (i.e., reinstatement) when “reasonable cause exists to believe a violation has occurred.”

The court is must consider the “chilling effect” on other employees.

The new law will go into effect January 1, 2018. You can read the full text of the bill here.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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