Retaliation in the workplace is a common issue that manifests in the form of unreasonable actions taken by an employer, usually in response to a complaint or a report of misconduct against them by an employee. Examples of such actions include demoting or even terminating the employee in question.
However, employees are protected against these kinds of acts by employers and have the right to file retaliation claims against them under state and federal law. This ensures that employees who step forward to report misconduct are not punished for doing the right thing.
In this article, we will explain what are considered acts of retaliation in the workplace, signs of workplace retaliation, and how and when to file a retaliation claim.
Workplace retaliation essentially involves a leader or employer taking negative action against an employee who filed a complaint regarding harassment or workplace discrimination. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filing a formal complaint is a protected activity. Therefore, retaliation in the workplace after a complaint is filed is an illegal activity.
Human resource employees supervisors, and other employees must be well-versed in understanding the concept of workplace retaliation to ensure the proper measures are taken, and employment discrimination is addressed appropriately.
Common employer reactions considered as workplace retaliation include the following:
In addition to the actions outlined above, there are also several subtle adverse employment acts that may count as workplace retaliation and must be addressed.
Subtle forms of workplace retaliation include:
Workplace retaliation takes many forms, but if an employer executes a negative action that causes a reasonable employee to exercise their legal rights, it is more than likely enough reason to file a legal workplace retaliation claim.
The following actions by an employer or company leader are commonly observed in cases of workplace retaliation:
There are many other forms of adverse employment action, such as unwarranted and unexpected negative performance reviews and using such reviews as grounds for a promotion denial.
Proving workplace retaliation definitively requires you to establish three things:
Below is an inexhaustive list of legally protected activities:
Several federal and state laws protect employees and job applicants when they execute these actions. Anti-discrimination laws explicitly protect workers against retaliation in the workplace following a protected activity.
The most challenging part of a retaliation case is often proving causation. The invoked law determines the connection between the adverse employment action and the protected activity, and some are more precise than others. For clarification, consider these examples:
More often than not, it is very difficult to prove that an employer’s actions were a form of retaliation. Circumstantial evidence often serves as the primary grounds to prove that a protected activity led to an adverse reaction. Such circumstantial evidence often includes:
Before filing a complaint against an employer, consult a human resources representative or an experienced employment lawyer to ensure the evidence is sufficient to take the matter further. It will also strengthen your case if a witness is willing to get involved in the retaliation case.
If your salary or benefits are suddenly reduced following the execution of a legally protected action, it is considered an adverse employment action, and you have the right to file a complaint and exercise your legal rights.
An unwarranted reduction in any of the following areas is deemed an adverse employment action:
Termination and demotion are some of the most grievous forms of workplace retaliation. It is common for demotions to occur shortly after the execution of a protected activity. Until such time, an employer will likely reprimand you for minor things and write poor reviews regarding your work performance to justify the demotion.
If an employer transfers you to another work location or reassigns you to a different role without cause, it may be a form of workplace retaliation.
You can distinguish a reasonable reassignment from retaliation by considering whether the transfer puts you in a problematic position, either related to location or duties. Employers are notorious for making an example of an employee by reassigning them. They often reassign staff members to show other employees what will happen to them if they speak up, which is undoubtedly a form of retaliation.
If you suspect that you are a victim of workplace retaliation, it is essential that you see an employment lawyer as soon as possible. Several employment laws entail distinct procedures, so getting the proper guidance is advised.
Some federal and state laws require employees to report their complaints to the organization’s human resources department before further measures can be taken.
If the retaliation claim aligns with Title VII, you must file a discrimination charge with the EEOC, which will effectively serve as a mediator between you and the employer.
The EEOC will conduct a thorough investigation if no conclusion can be reached or if the employer fails to act in good faith. Thereafter, the EEOC will take complete control of the case and sometimes even issue a Right to Sue letter, giving you the right to pursue the claim in the Supreme Court.