Workplace retaliation occurs when a manager or other leader in the company uses their position and power to punish an employee for exercising a legal right or reporting illegal behavior. Retaliation may include firing, demoting, preventing a promotion, denying training opportunities or carrying out any other adverse action.
Such actions often adversely impact the employee’s career with the company, but employees have recourse against workplace retaliation.
Both federal and state laws protect employees against workplace retaliation. For example, according to federal law, employers cannot retaliate against employees for reporting discrimination based on physical or genetic characteristics, age, disability, religion or national origin. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 are a few examples of the federal laws that protect employees.
Each state’s department of labor also has laws against retaliation. Hawaii, for instance, has explicit regulations concerning employees who testify against their employers.
Prove retaliation may require the employee to demonstrate that he or she received unfair compensation, faced harassment, missed out on a promotion or training or faced discrimination or lack of accommodation for a disability. Employees who suspect retaliation should report it immediately. They should link the employer to the actions and prove that they adversely affected their employment.
Most retaliation cases use circumstantial evidence because most employers will not admit their actions. Therefore, employees can use performance evaluations, witness statements, text messages and emails both prior to and after the incident that caused the retaliation.
To protect themselves, employees should understand what actions the law considers retaliatory. After suspected retaliation, it is important to keep a record of what happened, start gathering evidence and get witness statements from others.