SB 497: The New 90-Day Presumption For Employees in Retaliation Claims

Introduction

California’s Senate Bill 497, known as the Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Protection Act, represents a major shift in the legal framework for employees in retaliation claims. Signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on 10/8/23, it goes into effect on 1/1/24, amending Labor Code Sections 98.6, 1102.5, and 1197.5 to simplify and strengthen the process for employees to bring retaliation claims against their employers​​​​.

The Key Features of SB 497

  1. Rebuttable Presumption: The central feature of SB 497 is the introduction of a rebuttable presumption in favor of the employee. If an employer takes adverse action (like discharge, discipline, demotion, or threat thereof) against an employee within 90 days of the employee exercising rights under specific Labor Code provisions, it is presumed to be retaliatory. This presumption shifts the burden of proof significantly in favor of the employee, simplifying the process of establishing a prima facie case of retaliation​​​​​​.
  2. Shifting Burden of Proof: Previously, employees had the initial burden to prove a causal nexus between their protected activity and the employer’s adverse action. Under SB 497, once the 90-day presumption is invoked, it is now the employer that must immediately provide the court with a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for their action. If they manage to do so, the burden shifts back to the employee to submit further evidence to prove that the discipline was still retaliatory in nature​​​​. If they don’t, the employee prevails.
  3. Civil Penalties: The bill further directs that civil penalties (in addition to damages) be awarded to the employee who suffered the violation, adding a financial deterrent against employer retaliation​​.

Implications for Employees

  1. Easier Legal Path: SB 497 simplifies the legal pathway for employees to establish retaliation claims. Employees are now more empowered to challenge adverse actions believed to be retaliatory, without the daunting task of proving the causal nexus between their protected activity and the adverse action at the outset of their cases.
  2. Increased Protections: The law also reinforces existing laws protecting various forms of protected conduct, such as filing complaints or participating in investigations. Employees now have an added layer of protection when engaging in these activities.
  3. Support for Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation: SB 497 upholds the principles of equal pay for substantially similar work regardless of gender or race/ethnicity. It ensures protection against retaliation for activities related to wage discussions and disclosures, thereby promoting transparency and equity in the workplace.

Conclusion

SB 497 marks a crucial step in California’s efforts to protect employees from retaliation. It shifts the balance significantly in favor of employees who seek to hold their employers accountable for retaliation. If you have been subjected to retaliation within 90 days after making a complaint of legal violation to your employer, taking a protected medical or sick leave, or other protected act, talk to a lawyer to see if this new presumption will apply to you.

1 Comments

  1. Donna Henson on July 17, 2024 at 1:24 am

    I’m a former employee that was discriminated and retaliated against and due to the labor violations committed against me I lost Erisa benefits and fired under a disability now at retirement age no pension.

    My retaliation I experience was all the requirements under the new retaliation law. I do have right to sue letter CRD. And proof. It’s not right if the former and last employer you worked for committed severe damage and the statues get in the way because of fraudulent inducement..

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