Workplace Retaliation: What it is and the Laws that Protect You from it

Jun 20, 2014 by

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are just two of the many agencies and laws that safeguard the rights of all employees, as well as job applicants, in the United States. Through these two federal decrees, individuals are protected from being intimidated, coerced, threatened, harassed, unjustly compensated, discriminated against, wrongfully terminated, (and many others) in the workplace. Besides these, there is another protection that EEOC offers, but which employees may not be aware of – that is, protection against retaliation.

Retaliation refers to any adverse act resorted to by an employer, labor organization or employment agency against an employee who participates in legally protected activities. An adverse act is any act, like termination, refusal to hire, unjustified negative references or evaluation, and criminal or civil charges, that will impede a person from opposing or participating in employment discrimination proceedings; a legally protected activity, on the other hand, refers to any act that will help expose and /or prove discriminatory practices or harassment in the workplace. Some samples of protected activities are:

  • Refusal to follow a superior’s order which is honestly alleged as discriminatory
  • Protesting/picketing against workplace discrimination
  • Showing intent to file a charge of discrimination or actually filing a case of employment discrimination
  • Acting as a witness in an EEOC investigation or legal proceeding

There are acts of retaliation that are quite obvious, such as reduction in salary, demotion, being denied a raise or promotion, and being fired from work; there are retaliatory acts too that are subtle and, therefore, not immediately apparent, like job relocation or a change in work schedule, which could limit employee flexibility or greatly inconvenience a parent-employee.

There have been many laws passed and agencies formed with the intent of protecting employees from employer retaliation regardless of the status of their employment (while still employed, retaliation may be in the form of demotion, reduction in salary, etc.; retaliation after employee’s resignation from work can include bad referencing). Some of these laws are:

  1. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which was signed into law in 1970 and which gave rise to the government agency called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This law was designed to keep workers from any hazards in the workplace, like toxic chemicals, damaging noise levels, extreme temperature (heat or cold), dangerous machinery, etc.;
  2. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which became a law in 1993. It lays down the right of every employee to take time off from work due to illness or injury, either to his/her own person or to a family member, and arrival of a new child (through birth or adoption);
  3. Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). This became a law in 2002 and is also known under the name Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protector Act of 2002. The Act asks employees to report to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) any accounting violations or accounting fraud scandals committed by public companies.

Obviously, no employer would admit resorting to retaliatory acts to get back at an employee. However, if you honestly feel that your employer is retaliating against you, then one of the wisest moves to take is to ask for legal advice. By contacting a hostile work environment lawyer, you will be able to work through your case with an expert.

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