Workplace Retaliation: Asserting Your Rights Against Discrimination

Employee consulting a lawyer

Laws protect employees from harassment and discrimination. And while they can encourage victims to step forward and file for a complaint in the workplace, these laws can fall short of shielding them when the defendant retaliates.

Some employers may get back at an employee after receiving a complaint. The impact can be devastating. And the effects can range from appraisal delays to termination.

It helps to know your rights when dealing with workplace retaliation. While legal arbitration and mediation services could resolve the issue, it pays to know what constitutes retaliation and what steps you can take to avoid it.

When is Retaliation Illegal?

Employees experiencing harassment or discrimination may file a complaint internally or to an outside body like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And these workers are covered by federal laws against retaliation.

In particular, the EEOC makes it illegal for any employer to demote, harass, fire, or retaliate against an employee who:

  • Filed a complaint against discrimination
  • Complained to their employer or another organization about workplace discrimination
  • Participated in workplace discrimination proceedings, like lawsuits or investigations

Also, these laws forbid retaliation of any kind in any aspect of employment, such as layoffs, lateral moves, transfers, training, and more.

Keeping an Eye Out for the Signs

Some forms of retaliation can be more subtle, for instance. And that’s why the U.S. Supreme Court urges defendants to carefully inspect the circumstances of their situation. For instance, a job shift could be a career opportunity for some employees, but it could be damaging to workers with young children and a less flexible schedule.

If you encounter a negative situation after filing a complaint, then you have reason to be suspicious. This can come in the form of an unfair performance review or sudden exclusion from a project you were working on.

But not all changes in attitude and demeanor are a sign of something fishy. Remember: only changes that adversely affect your employment count as retribution.

Building Your Retaliation Case

Employee at the lawyer's office

If you have suspicions that your employer is responding negatively, talk to your supervisor or someone from Human Resources. Ask for an explanation for the negative actions — they may have valid reason behind the change.

But if they deny your concerns and refuse to take action, you may have to start building a case. And that entails establishing a link between your complaint and your employer’s retaliatory behavior.

Keep track and document what you observed since you filed a complaint. If possible, obtain receipts, such as emails or other documents that could prove your claim.

If you are facing significant losses because of a termination or other illegal action, on the other hand, consulting with a lawyer can strengthen your case. Your legal counsel can also shed light on what compensation you can recover.

As an employee, you have every right to speak up and assert your rights against discrimination. After all, every employee who files a complaint has the law to back them up when they are facing serious retaliation issues.