Many employees write long emails to their human resources departments or bosses to complain about all the ways that they are being harassed at work, and then they are fired afterward. California workers might be surprised to learn that reporting bullying, harassment or a hostile workplace in general does not protect them against retaliation. Instead, they need to report the hostile workplace in a way that protects them.

One way to do this is to report retaliation for political activity, voting, blowing the whistle on illegal business activities or trying to create a union. Employees who are fired for reporting these unlawful activities should name their reports to human resources a Formal Complaint of Whistle-blower Retaliation.

Employees can protect themselves from retaliation when they report workplace bullying or harassment because they are weak. They could become a target because of their age, they are associated with someone who is disabled, they are disabled, they claim workers’ compensation or they take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. For retaliation for taking time off of work, they need to label their reports to human resources a Formal Complaint of FMLA Retaliation and describe how their work environment changes after they took time off of work.

Bullying or harassment simply because the aggressor doesn’t like the employee is not illegal. Instead, workers should report discrimination because of their age, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. If they are targeted for their religion, for example, their report to human resources should be called a Formal Complaint of Religious Harassment, and they should detail how others of different religions are treated better.

Workers who believe that they are being bullied or harassed could ask employment law attorneys to help them create and submit complaints to their human resources departments so that they remain protected from retaliation. The attorneys may also help them develop litigation strategies if their issues are taken to court.