Retaliation in the workplace takes place in the event that an employee is punished by an employer for engaging in an activity that is legally protected. Retaliation includes negative job actions, such as salary reduction, demotions, discipline, job reassignment or firing, but it can also be far more subtle such as denying a raise or transfer. Legally, an employer cannot punish an employee for taking part in investigations in the workplace or for making harassment or discrimination complaints. It may be wise to consult with an employment lawyer if you believe you are being retaliated against at work as a result of filing a complaint about actions occurring in your work environment.
If a worker files a complaint internally or to an external body such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in good faith, federal law provides protection to the employee from retaliation. In some cases it is difficult to tell if your employer is in fact retaliating against you. An example of this might include a worker filing a complaint regarding harassment by a supervisor. If the supervisor’s demeanor and attitude toward the employee changes, it in fact may be that he or she now acts in a more professional manner toward the worker. That is not considered retaliation even if the supervisor is no longer as friendly as he or she once was. Only those actions that have a negative effect on your job are retaliatory in the eyes of the law. In contrast, if an action that is clearly negative occurs shortly after a complaint is made, such as the worker getting fired or demoted, there is good reason for suspicion. Keep in mind that retaliatory acts are not always obvious, as in the case of an unfair and unexpected job performance review, suddenly being excluded from staff meetings, the supervisor starting to micromanage everything the worker does, etc.
If you believe you are a victim of retaliation in the workplace, first speak to a human resources representative if someone in the company fills that role and if not, talk to the supervisor. It is fair to ask very specific questions about the reasons for these acts. It is possible there is a reasonable explanation, but if the employer is unable to provide a legitimate explanation, express your concerns that you believe that the supervisor is retaliating against you. Without doubt, the employer will deny these allegations, and in fairness, sometimes an employer retaliates without even being aware they are engaging in this conduct. Ask that it immediately stops. If an employer is not willing to correct the problem or admit to the wrongdoing, your best option may be to file a complaint with the EEOC or the Fair Employment Agency in your state. An employment lawyer can advise you on your best course of action.
If you believe you are a victim of retaliation in the workplace, and your employer will not correct or address the problem, it may be in your best interest to speak to an employment lawyer for advice on your claim. Gather all evidence you have including prior history, emails, and other documents that might indicate your employer was happy with your work prior to the complaint.
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