You Talk to Investigators About Workplace Harassment. Then You’re Fired.
It’s Unlawful, but It Happens—All Too Often
Harassment and discrimination are unlawful in workplaces throughout the United States. However, for these laws to be enforced, somebody has to report the violation and participate in an investigation.
Under the law, you’re supposed to be able to do both these things without reprisals. However, retaliation is common in American workplaces. In fact, it’s the most frequent charge brought against employers, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
What’s protected under the law?
Under federal law, there are certain protected activities that you’re supposed to be able to do without retaliation. These include:
- Complaining, to the EEOC or anyone else, about harassment or discrimination in the workplace—even if your claim turns out not to be true, as long as you made it in good faith.
- Cooperating in an EEOC investigation, or serving as a witness during litigation or internal investigations.
- Complaining about safety violations, fraud, or other unlawful activity in the workplace.
- Opposing discrimination in the workplace, reporting on it, or participating in an investigation.
State laws often go further in protecting employees’ rights to perform certain activities without retaliation. In Pennsylvania, the courts are inclined to protect employees who:
- Refuse to break a law under their employer’s orders
- File a worker’s compensation claim
- File for unemployment benefits
- Testify or serve on a jury
- Decline to undergo drug testing or take a lie detector test (under some circumstances)
How do you know if you’re the target of retaliation?
Retaliation occurs when your employer takes action against you for reporting harassment, taking part in an investigation, or doing anything else that’s legally protected. However, it can sometimes be a challenge to prove cause and effect.
For example, if your employer changes your schedule, there could be no malicious motive behind it—it could be purely based on their workforce needs.
However, changing an employee’s schedule can wreak havoc on their lives—if, for example, your new work hours make it impossible for you to pick up young children from school or attend necessary classes.
Some other examples of retaliation include:
- Firing or demoting you after you file a harassment claim or participate in an investigation.
- Changing your hours to a more detrimental schedule, or finding ways to reduce your pay.
- Giving you a negative review—especially if your reviews were usually positive before.
- Constantly finding fault with you for minor infractions, especially if others aren’t punished for them. They could be using the “suddenly stupid” strategy to build a case for your firing.
The government wants to ensure that employees are not deterred from reporting unlawful or harassing behavior, so the question the court will ask is whether your employer’s actions would deter a reasonable person from making a complaint in your situation.
What should you do if you’re fired for reporting workplace discrimination?
If you believe you’ve been fired for reporting discrimination or harassment, or participating in an investigation, you should talk to a lawyer.
A knowledgeable employment lawyer will be able to serve as your champion in this matter. We can help you sort out whether the firing was indeed an act of retaliation, and aggressively pursue all the recompense you’re entitled to.
The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.