Even though Americans are aware of their employee’s rights and laws that protect them from workplace discrimination and harassment, many are unaware of the laws and their rights regarding retaliation in the workplace. This means that an employer can not punish you for making complaints regarding workplace harassment or discrimination or for your participation in any of the investigations related to your workplace. Moreover, punishment is not limited to demotion or firing. It can include any negative behavior by the employer towards an employee which can stop them from growing professionally, including stopping their raise, taking away mentorship opportunities, etc. To look and understand workplace retaliation let’s dig deeper.
But before everything else, know what retaliation in the workplace means.
What is meant by retaliation in the workplace?
As the word retaliation suggests, it is a kind of revenge that an employer may take from an employee over participating in any of the legally protected activities.
Direct retaliation includes salary reduction, stopping an employee’s promotion, firing an employee, reassigning a job or shift, etc. While this kind of retaliation is direct, there are subtle ways of retaliation as well.
For example, if you are a single parent and you have specific hours to give to your work and in this situation, your employer changes your shift. It might not be objectionable to others but in your specific case, this might cause a hindrance for you. In this case, as per the US Supreme Court, if this action of an employer deters you in a situation, it would be labeled as workplace retaliation.
In what circumstances are you protected from employer’s retaliation?
As per the Federal laws if an employee faces any discrimination or harassment at the workplace and they make a complaint either internally or to an external organization that protects the rights of employees such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The law protects the rights of an employee, even if the allegations were unfounded.
Apart from that, because EEOC is a legal department and they can carry out workplace investigations anytime, in this case, if an employee decides to participate in the investigation or litigation, and the employer retaliates due to this, the employee is protected via workplace retaliation law.
Moreover, a recent case in the Supreme Court has also confirmed that if an employee participates in any internal investigation or a “whistleblower” complaint about hostile work environment retaliation, they are also protected under the law.
The law also protects employees in other kinds of retaliation cases for example when an employee files a worker’s compensation claim, etc.
What are the signs of retaliation at work?
Identifying retaliation at the workplace is hard. Not always a counteraction that was taken against your complaint is a form of workplace retaliation. For example, if you make a complaint about your manager for discrimination against you and in response, your manager starts acting more professionally and his/her attitude towards you is not the same as it was before, but it is not affecting your professional growth, then that doesn’t count in retaliation.
However, on the contrary, if you make a complaint and within a few days or a week’s time something happens that affects your career growth directly, would be a workplace retaliation example. For instance, you are fired over not being a team player or any other reason that doesn’t exist or you become a victim of subtle retaliation such as getting a poor performance review, which might directly affect your promotion or you were dropped from a project on which you were working on, etc.
A course of action if you are going through retaliation in the workplace
If you think that you are being retaliated by your employer, the first thing that you must do is to raise your concerns to either your supervisor or the human resource management of your company.
Perse, you made a complaint and after a few days, you were demoted due to your poor work performance or your shift timings were changed because there was an opening for that time slot and initially when you joined the company you had asked for it, it might be taken as workplace retaliation. To confirm, ask your employer for the reasons why a particular action was taken. If your employer has a good explanation for it, you will get your answer. However, if not, then you must point out to your employer that what is happening to you is workplace retaliation and ask them to stop it immediately.
If your employer still denies the fact and won’t admit his/her wrongdoing, then you can take action as per EEOC retaliation guidelines by taking your concerns to them or the state’s fair employment agency.
What makes a retaliation case strong?
Once after identifying workplace retaliation and taking your action against it by taking your concerns to the authorities, your next step to make your case stronger must be to prove that the retaliatory behavior by your employee came right after you made a complaint or you participated in an internal investigation, etc. Gather the evidence and the more pieces of evidence you have on you that prove the retaliatory behavior of your employer against your legally protected action, the better it is.
To make your case strong, document all the retaliatory behavior by your employer along with how the situation was before your legally protected action. For instance, if your employer fires you and puts a reason that your work was not up to the mark, then dig out past emails from your employer where he/she has applauded you for the work, have appreciated you, or mails that simply prove that your employer was happy and suddenly after you made a complaint, everything changed.
Consult an employment lawyer
Lastly, after you have done everything that you must have done, the next step to get your retaliation settlement is by contacting an employment lawyer. They will look into your case and will tell you how strong your case is and what results from the lawsuit you must expect.
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