What You Need to Know About Unlawful Retaliation from Employers

Defining Retaliation

Workplace retaliation happens when an employer punishes its employees for any action or behavior, regardless of how legal or in the right the employee happens to be. The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak specify that the most common form of retaliation is wrongful termination. However, any adverse employment decision that impacts the terms and conditions of your employment may constitute unlawful retaliation.

In cases where retaliation is less overt than being fired, the United States Supreme Court states that context and circumstances must be taken into account when deciding whether or not an employer had engaged in retaliation against its employees; for example, while a shift change might not be objectionable to many, it could be detrimental to a single mother’s quality of life and her child’s upbringing. As long as an employer’s actions result in a complaint-worthy situation, it could qualify as illegal retaliation.

Federal law safeguards employees from retaliatory actions delivered by an employer, whether internally or through groups like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Even if a particular claim of retaliation is unfounded, it is fine as long as the grievance is made in good faith. This protection extends to employees cooperating with EEOC investigations or serving as a witness for such inquiries. Actions taken in service to a witness of an internal investigation, as well as whistle-blowing, are also covered. Furthermore, some states prevent employers for retaliating against measures like an employee seeking workers’ compensation.

How to Recognize Types of Retaliation

Complaining about harassment from a supervisor may result in a shift in his approach. However, if such a change is more proper, that is not retaliation. It is only when a change adversely affects your employment that you can declare it retaliation; conversely, if something negative occurs after making a complaint, sufficient grounds exist to claim retaliation. Remember, retaliatory actions can include toxic performance reviews, micromanagement of your work, or even being redirected away from staff meetings related to your projects.

What You Can Do About Unlawful Retaliation

If you suspect retaliation, you should first bring it up with your supervisor or human resources manager, remembering to specifically inquire about the grievance. While the employer may provide a reasonable excuse by citing previous wishes with the job or referring to factual elements of your work history, failure to provide a reasonable excuse is more than sufficient to voice concerns of illegal retaliation.

It is not uncommon for an employer to deny retaliatory actions, sometimes having done so without being aware of it. Make sure to point out the timing of the retaliation, the employer’s knowledge of the adverse changes, and lack of other explanations. Request its immediate cessation. Should your employer be unwilling to admit its complicity or fix the issue, you should move on to consulting the EEOC or your state’s fair employment agency.

Building a Case

If you sense retaliation and your employer does not budge, you need to provide a cause and effect relationship between your initial grievance and the punitive response. The more evidence you can provide, the stronger your case will be. Make sure to document every aspect of the retaliatory behavior and any data relevant to the workplace environment prior to your complaint. Relevant data would include e-mails or other documentation with your employer that addresses your work history.

Retaliation in the workplace is not something to take lying down. If you’re being treated unfairly, speak up and fight for yourself.