Employers who try to “get back” at workers who complain may be violating the law

Many workers don’t complain about potentially unlawful activity at work for one simple reason: they’re afraid of what will happen next.

Will they get fired? Demoted? Will the boss start breathing down their necks? Will their coworkers alienate them?

While these are all valid fears, it’s important to know that some kinds of retaliation are unlawful under federal law. That means there’s no need to suffer in silence, or to put up with dangerous or degrading behavior.

If you’ve been scared to speak up about an upsetting and potentially unlawful situation at work, or if you already complained and are now experiencing negative consequences as a result, it’s important to know how the law addresses retaliation.

What Does the Law Say About Retaliation?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is unlawful for employers to retaliate or “punish” employees or job applicants who have asserted their rights to be free from discrimination and harassment.

Asserting your rights is considered a “protected activity.” After you have participated in a protected activity, federal law then generally offers protection from retaliation.

You may assert your rights in several ways, including:

  • filing a complaint or acting as a witness in a discrimination or harassment-related situation, such as an investigation or lawsuit
  • reporting discrimination or harassment to someone within the company or to a federal agency
  • refusing to participate in a discriminatory act, even if ordered to do so by a superior
  • resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others
  • requesting accommodation of a disability
  • requesting accommodation for a religious practice
  • discussing salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wage practices

What Does Retaliation Look Like?

Retaliation can take many forms, some more obvious than others.

Termination is an obvious example of potential termination. However, any “adverse employment action,” that is, anything that unfavorably changes the terms and conditions your employment, may constitute also retaliation.

Some examples of retaliation may include:

  • Termination
  • Demotion
  • Refusal to promote or hire
  • Transfer to an undesirable position or job location
  • Schedule changes to undesirable shifts
  • Threats or assaults to deter further participation in a complaint
  • Unjustified negative evaluations or references
  • Increased scrutiny compared to other similarly situated workers

It’s important to note that making a complaint does not shield you from any of the above actions. Rather, it protects you from those actions as a direct result of your complaint. That means you can still be fired, as long as it’s for an unrelated reason.

Of course, many retaliation cases involve an employer fabricating supposedly unrelated reasons for taking adverse actions. If that has happened to you, it’s especially important to seek legal counsel right away.

Call Us for a Free Consultation

Remember, if you’ve been retaliated against for opposing unlawful activity, the law may be on your side.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.