California's SB 497 Simplifies Retaliation Claims for Employees

Posted by Catherine Chukwueke | Oct 18, 2023

On October 8, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom approved SB 497. SB 497 introduces pivotal changes to California Labor Code Sections 98.6, 1102.5, and 1197.5, with the intent of strengthening safeguards for employees involved in specific protected activities. SB 497 goes into effect on January 1, 2024.

Key Amendments Introduced by SB 497:

1. Strengthening Protection for Protected Conduct (California Labor Code section 98.6):

  • Rebuttable Presumption: The bill introduces a rebuttable presumption in favor of an employee's claim if an employer takes any adverse action prohibited by the legislation within 90 days of the protected activity.
  • Expanded Remedies: In addition to existing remedies, employers are now liable for a civil penalty not exceeding $10,000 per employee for each violation of this provision. This penalty is awarded to the employee who suffered retaliation.

2. Anti-Retaliation Measures (California Labor Code section 1102.5):

  • Disclosure of Information: Employers are prohibited from preventing employees from disclosing information to government or law enforcement agencies, superiors, or colleagues involved in investigating violations or noncompliance.
  • Expanded Civil Penalties: Employers violating these provisions may face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per employee for each violation. The nature and seriousness of the violation will be assessed by the Labor Commissioner.

3. Equal Pay Provisions (California Labor Code section 1197.5):

  • Wage Equality: Employers are prohibited from paying employees at rates less than those paid to employees of the opposite sex or of another race or ethnicity for substantially similar work under similar conditions.
  • Rebuttable Presumption: Similar to other sections, a rebuttable presumption is established in favor of the employee's claim if the employer takes prohibited actions within 90 days of the protected activity.
  • Liabilities: Employers violating wage equality provisions are liable for the wages and interest of which the employee is deprived, plus an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.

Implications and Considerations:

  • Broader Protections: The amendments broaden the protections for employees engaging in protected conduct, making it easier for them to establish a prima facie case of retaliation.
  • Stricter Penalties: The increased civil penalties underscore the seriousness of violations, aiming to deter employers from engaging in retaliatory practices.
  • Timeframe Considerations: The introduction of a 90-day timeframe for the rebuttable presumption encourages prompt legal recourse for aggrieved employees.

Conclusion: SB 497 amends California Labor Code Sections 98.6, 1102.5, and 1197.5 to create a rebuttable presumption of retaliation when an employee faces discipline or is discharged within ninety days of specific protected activity. SB 497 simplifies the process for employees to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. Positioned as a significant stride for equal pay and protection against retaliation in California, SB 497 signals the need for employers to carefully review and adjust their policies to align with this reinforced legal framework. Beyond promoting workplace equality, SB 497 underscores the importance of protecting individuals who voice concerns about unfair employment practices.

If you have any questions regarding your company's policies or California employment law, contact the Law Office of Catherine Chukwueke and schedule a consultation.

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. 

About the Author

Catherine Chukwueke

Catherine (“Cathy”) Chukwueke is the Owner and Principal Attorney of the Law Office of Catherine Chukwueke, a law firm focusing on labor and employment matters and workplace investigations. Ms. Chukwueke is passionate about helping people who have been mistreated in the workplace.

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