Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for taking certain actions. This general rule is designed to encourage employees to exercise their legal rights and to discourage employers from trying to take advantage of their workers.
Yet workplace retaliation still exists and is the most common form of workplace discrimination in the federal sector. Knowing what constitutes unlawful retaliation is the first step in reporting and stopping this troubling behavior.
Retaliation is not always easy to spot. Keeping these three key points in mind can help you not only determine whether you are being retaliated against, but also what to do about it:
To constitute unlawful retaliation, your employer’s actions must follow your performance of some protected activity. In many situations, this protected activity involves reporting unsafe or unlawful behavior to outside authorities. An employer’s actions taken against you for non-protected activities would not constitute unlawful retaliation.
For example, suppose that you noticed severe safety violations at your workplace, and you reported these to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your employer discovers that you were the whistleblower and reduces your pay by $2.00 per hour.
Because reporting safety violations is a protected activity under the law, your employer’s actions would constitute unlawful retaliation.
However, if your employer reduces your pay by $2.00 per hour because you have been late to start your shift every day for the past two weeks, your employer’s retaliatory actions against you in this situation are lawful. This is because arriving late to work is not a protected activity.
Many people believe that retaliation only consists of termination. If employees are not terminated by their employer for engaging in a protected activity, they may mistakenly believe that they are not being retaliated against.
But retaliation in the workplace can take many forms. Generally speaking, retaliation consists of any negative or adverse employment action your employer takes against you. The following falls under the umbrella of retaliation:
- Demoting you from your current position to a less desirable position
- Reducing your rate of pay or denying you a bonus while other employees receive a bonus
- Giving you a less desirable work schedule
- Denying you requested time off without reason
- Creating a hostile work environment or allowing such an environment to exist
In short, retaliation is a broad concept that includes any adverse or negative action taken by your employer meant to dissuade you or others from engaging in a protected activity. A Houston employment law attorney can help you determine if you have a retaliation case after reporting or participating in a protected activity.
You Have Real Rights When You Have Suffered Retaliation
The legal remedies available to you after you have been retaliated against are no small matters. These remedies are not only meant to undo the effects of any retaliatory action your employer took against you, but also to penalize your employer from engaging in retaliatory behavior in the first place.
If you suffered a financial loss, such as a reduction in pay, your remedies could include an order directing your employer to reinstate your previous wages without any period of reduction. And if your employer’s retaliatory actions caused you to lose out on money, your employer could be ordered to reimburse you for these, too.
Alternatively, suppose that you were terminated. The court could enter an order that directs your employer to reinstate you in your previous position and at your previous rate of pay. Or if reinstatement is not the outcome you desire, a monetary damages award could be ordered instead to compensate you for the harm you suffered.
Understanding retaliation in the workplace can help you protect your rights, your reputation, and your future. Employers have no right to retaliate against employees who report discrimination, harassment, or safety violations. Those that do should be held accountable. Our team of experienced and compassionate employment law attorneys will help you hold your employer accountable through a discrimination claim or lawsuit.
Only when employers realize that their retaliatory actions have real, financial consequences will they think twice about how they respond to workplace whistleblowers.
Contact us today to discuss your retaliation claim. We are ready to help you achieve justice.