Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
What Should I Do If I’m the Victim of Workplace Retaliation?
It takes courage to report discriminatory behavior or harassment occurring in the workplace. Unfortunately, in many cases, reporting on-the-job discrimination or harassment can result in the person who reported it becoming the target of workplace retaliation. In such cases, it is crucial that workplace retaliation victims talk to an attorney about the situation as soon as possible. Workplace harassment and discrimination lawyers understand how to both protect victims and bring those responsible to justice.
What is Workplace Retaliation?
Workplace retaliation is an area of employment law defined as an employer punishing an employee for taking part in a legally protected activity. In many cases, the legally protected activity that the employee takes part in involves reporting harassment and discrimination occurring in the workplace. Some employers do not want that type of information to come to light, because it could mean trouble for them. Therefore, those types of employers will punish employees for reporting harassment or discriminatory behavior.
Examples of workplace retaliation include:
- Salary reduction
- Denying a promotion or transfer
- Reassigning to an undesirable shift
- Reduction in hours
- Adjusting job duties
Whether it is one of the actions above or something else, if an employer’s actions can be considered adverse enough to convince a reasonable employee to avoid submitting a complaint or to retract a previous complaint, then it could be considered illegal workplace retaliation.
In addition to employers retaliating against workers, employees can also retaliate against employers and supervisors. Examples of employees engaging in workplace retaliation include:
- Writing a negative review about a current or former employer or supervisor on an employer review or job website
- Filing a claim with a regulatory agency
- Negatively discussing their employer with the media
- Attempting to blow the whistle on unethical or illegal practices
- Filing a lawsuit against his or her employer
Causes of Workplace Retaliation
There can be several reasons for workplace retaliation. Several common reasons include personal disagreements, personal relationships, and incidents that occurred outside of work. For example: if a supervisor and an employee were a couple and then broke up, and the supervisor then uses his or her position to demote the employee without cause, it could be considered workplace retaliation because of their personal relationship.
Employees can also be the victims of workplace retaliation for work-related reasons, such as if an employee discovers a safety violation at a worksite and his or her employer wants it covered up, but the employee instead reports the violation to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In such cases, the employer may retaliate against his or her employee by firing the employee without just cause.
Who Is the Victim of Workplace Retaliation?
Victims of workplace retaliation are generally employees who are subordinates. Often, they have been the target of sexual harassment, racial discrimination or gender discrimination, and they are being retaliated against because they reported the incident to their employer or an outside agency. In some cases, they are not victims of the harassment or discrimination, but witnesses to acts of discrimination or harassment and was the one to report it.
Another type of workplace retaliation victim is an employee who discovers a safety violation and reports that to his or her employer and/or OSHA and becomes a target of workplace retaliation as a result.
Finally, there are employees who are dating a supervisor only to have that relationship end, resulting in the supervisor retaliating against the employee in various ways, including denying promotions, demotion, assigning new tasks, cutting hours, and termination.
What to Do If You’re the Victim of Workplace Retaliation
If you are the victim of workplace retaliation, you should do the following:
- Do not ignore it – You ignoring the problem will not make it go away. In fact, it could embolden those who are harassing you, resulting in them making things even worse for you.
- Make sure your harassers know that you object to the way they are treating you – In some cases, you could be penalized for failing to clearly object to the retaliation.
- Record what is being done to you – Keep notes on everything that occurs, every incident of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Include dates. However, make sure you do not keep the notes on equipment owned by your employer.
- Know your employee manual and company’s policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and retaliation – Make sure you know your company’s rules and policies about workplace retaliation, harassment, and discrimination, and make sure you follow those rules when you report such incidents.
- Report workplace retaliation – You should report workplace retaliation to your human resources department and to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In addition, you should speak with an employment attorney about your situation.
- Continue working and doing your job to the best of your ability – If you quit your job, it could make it harder to prove your case and could hinder your ability to collect unemployment. Also, if your level of production at work dips, it could give your employer the option to fire you with cause.
Damages for Workplace Retaliation Victims
Victims in workplace retaliation cases are awarded financial damages. This can include lost wages, loss of benefits, and medical expenses. In such cases, you will have to prove your financial losses due to the retaliation. This generally means providing relevant documentation, such as pay stubs, human resources complaints you filed, employment contracts, and benefits paperwork.
Talk to an Employment Lawyer If You Were the Victim of Workplace Retaliation
If you are experiencing workplace retaliation, you should begin creating a paper trail with detailed notes about the incidents, complaints filed with HR and the EEOC, pay stubs from both before and after the retaliation began, and other documentation. You should also talk to an employment lawyer about your situation right away. In many cases, experienced workplace harassment and discrimination attorneys will speak with you for free about your case. An employment attorney will be able to analyze your situation, explain whether you have a case, answer your questions, and tell you the next steps you need to take to pursue the best option available to you.