If you have recently filed a complaint or report, the law provides specific protection against retaliation. It is important that you understand what the law defines as retaliation and how it applies in your situation. The law prohibits employers from taking any kind of punitive action for engaging in “protected” activity such as filing an OSHA complaint, filing a workers’ compensation claim, or filing a complaint related to harassment or discrimination. Forms of retaliation might include discharge, suspension, demotion, retaliatory relocation of an employee, or other adverse employment action taken against an employee in the terms, conditions, privileges, and benefits of employment.
Retaliation by your employer against you because you are asserting your rights under the law or are complaining of what you believe to be unlawful conduct is an unlawful employment practice. Retaliation can take the form of termination or wrongful discharge, demotion, or some other disciplinary measure that substantially affects your employment.
What is Retaliation?
Retaliation is a narrowly-defined action. Simply acting hostile or bullying someone might constitute harassment or discrimination, but the law does not consider a punitive action to be retaliatory unless it is related to a specific legally-protected activity.
Here are a few legally-protected activities that can trigger retaliatory treatment:
- Complaints of harassment (sexual or non-sexual)
- Reporting unlawful discrimination
- Reporting unsafe working conditions
- Filing a worker’s compensation claim
- Cooperating with an investigation by a government agency (e.g. OSHA or the EEOC)
- Filing a complaint with the Department of Labor about your wages
It is important to note that your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you for filing a complaint, even if the complaint is later found to be invalid, as long as you filed the complaint subject to a good faith belief that you were doing the right thing. The law is designed this way to encourage you to speak up to defend your own rights or the rights of others in the workplace.
Types of Retaliation
If your employer begins to treat you differently right after you file a complaint, you may have cause to suspect that retaliation has occurred or will occur. If you have filed a complaint or a report either recently or in the distant past, here are some red flags that may signal retaliatory behavior:
- Being turned down for a promotion in favor of someone less qualified
- Sudden negative performance appraisals that are unduly harsh or unjust
- Disciplinary action for minor infractions that are often overlooked or not enforced against others
- Denying overtime or assigning undesired work schedules
- Display of hostility or indifference toward your concerns