SB 497: Retaliation Presumption

Employees in California have the right to engage in certain protected activities without the fear of retaliation. Retaliation is when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. For example, employees have the right to report violations of their rights without fearing retaliation from their employers. However, for a long time, employees have needed stronger protections. Recognizing this, Governor Newsom signed a law in October 2023 that aims to protect employees in California against retaliation. Senate Bill (SB) 497 created a rebuttable presumption of retaliation. Under this law, if an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee shortly after the employee engages in protected activity, that action is assumed to be a retaliatory act. Below is more on what you need to know about SB 497, which took effect on January 1, 2024.

What is Senate Bill 497?

Senate Bill (SB) 497 is a law that amended some sections of California’s Labor Code. This law introduced a rebuttable presumption of retaliation in instances where employers take adverse employment actions, such as firing, suspending, or demoting employees within 90 days of them participating in legally protected activity. The introduction of this presumption made bringing forward a case of retaliation easier for employees. 

Acts Covered Under SB 497

Senate Bill 497 covers a wide range of protected activities. A protected activity is an activity an employee takes that is legally safeguarded against employer retaliation. Typically, engaging in protected activity involves exercising rights provided by labor laws. The following are some of the acts protected under SB 497;

  • Reporting unsafe working conditions
  • Exercising rest and meal breaks
  • Filing claims for unpaid wages
  • Reporting sexual harassment and discrimination
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim

Employers Can Refute a Presumption of Retaliation

Since this presumption is rebuttable, it means an employer has the right to refute or dispute any claims of retaliation. An employer faced with a rebuttable presumption of retaliation can provide a genuine, non-retaliatory reason for the alleged retaliation. If the accused employer refutes the retaliatory claims, the burden of proof shifts back to the employee. The employee will then need to prove that, despite the employer’s justification, the actions were nonetheless retaliatory.

Consequences for Employers Found Guilty of Retaliation

To deter employers from retaliating against employees and encourage employees to exercise their legal rights, SB 497 imposes significant penalties against employers found guilty of retaliation. If an employer is found to have retaliated against a worker, they may be required to pay a monetary fine of up to $10,000 to the affected employee. This is a notable change from previous law, as previously, penalties went to the state and not wronged employees.

What to Do if an Employer Has Retaliated Against You

If an employer has retaliated against you for engaging in a protected activity, you should seek legal assistance immediately. A qualified employment attorney can fight on your behalf to ensure your rights are upheld. They can help you seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

Contact a California Employment Lawyer

Contact a California employment lawyer if you have questions or if an employer has retaliated against you for engaging in a protected activity.