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What do you need to know about workplace retaliation?

Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer or manager takes adverse action against an employee because the employee engaged in a legally protected activity. Legal protections apply to these situations because employees should be free to participate freely in these activities.

There are many different ways that employers can retaliate against employees. The key is that the action must be in response to a protected activity.

What are protected activities for employees?

Protected activities are things employees should be able to do without having to worry about being punished. These include:

  • Filing a complaint or claim about harassment, discrimination or other illegal conduct
  • Participating in an investigation or providing testimony about issues
  • Reporting safety or health hazards to appropriate authorities
  • Requesting accommodations for a disability or religious practice
  • Whistleblowing on illegal activities or ethical misconduct
  • Engaging in protected labor activities, such as forming, joining or supporting a labor union

A major point to remember about these matters is that they must be based on facts for the employee to have the protections against retaliation.

What are some examples of retaliation?

Retaliation is any negative employment action the employer or supervisors take against the participant in a protected activity. Some common examples include:

  • Demotion, termination or suspension of the employee
  • Reducing the employee’s pay, hours or benefits
  • Giving the employee poor performance evaluations, unwarranted disciplinary actions or unfavorable job assignments
  • Creating a hostile work environment, including harassment, intimidation or ostracism
  • Blocking the employee’s opportunities for promotion, training or career advancement

One important point to remember about these is that employees must still do their job duties properly. Participating in a protected act doesn’t make the person immune to standard disciplinary measures.

Retaliation in the workplace is illegal under federal and state laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Employees who believe they have been subjected to retaliation may be entitled to compensation or other remedies if their claim is successful.