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Federal enclaves create problems for employees facing retaliation

Employees have many things that they have to worry about at work just to complete their jobs. The one thing they should not have to worry about is safe working conditions. If, for some reason, a California employee does have a concern about the safety conditions at their job, they should be able to express their concerns to their supervisors without fear of retaliation.

In fact, California employment law protects whistleblowers who speak up about inhospitable working conditions. Under these state laws, an employee cannot face retaliation, including being fired or passed up for a promotion, because they took a brave stand. If an employee faces retaliation in such a situation, then they may have legal recourse to take action against their employer.

In one particular case, it appears that state rights will not apply to some California workers. If a California employee works on a federal enclave, then state employment laws do not apply to that worker. A federal enclave is created when a private business leases the land on which it operates directly from the federal government.

In these situations, only federal employment laws apply to the employees. These laws are much narrower, particularly when it comes to retaliation rules. Therefore, those workers who have been retaliated against may not have legal recourse.

Unfortunately, this very scenario has played out several times for the employees of the San Onofre nuclear plant. Many employees of the plant have complained of retaliation after reporting unsafe working conditions. Their cases have been thrown out of state courts, since the plant is on federal land. Furthermore, cases have been rejected in federal court, since no federal laws protect them.

Interestingly enough, some legal observers believe that the current interpretation of the law is incorrect, and that employees should be allowed to sue in state court when no federal rights are interfered with. In any case, others argue that current federal enclave laws should be changed. Until there is movement on this front, California employees should do what they can to protect their rights and determine what legal options may exist.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "San Onofre whistle-blowers less protected than others in California," Abby Sewell, July 5, 2012

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