U.S. workers have certain rights under state and federal laws, such as the right to privacy, a safe workplace and fair wages, and the right to freedom from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the job. If your employer violates those rights, or you have witnessed a co-worker’s rights being violated, you have the right to report them. You also have the right to participate in any investigation related to the violations, whether an internal query or an external third-party investigation.
Unfortunately, many workers fear repercussions if they report their employer for a rights infringement or participate in an investigation, even if they themselves are the victim. Although these fears are easy to understand, employees should know that they are protected under the law from employer retaliation.
Common activities that could incite retaliation include the following:
- Refusing to commit illegal acts despite your employer’s direction or request to do so
- Requesting or taking a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Filing a claim against your employer with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or other authority
- Complaining to your employer about workplace discrimination or harassment against you or a co-worker
- Whistleblowing against your employer to thwart illegal or fraudulent practices
- Filing for workers’ compensation benefits
- Participating as a witness in an EEOC or any other legal case against your employer
What is Employer Retaliation?
There are many ways that an employer can retaliate against a worker for “blowing the whistle” on illegal workplace activity. Essentially, any employer action that negatively impacts the employee can potentially be retaliation, such as:
- Assigned new or less desirable responsibilities
- Being demoted
- Being fired without cause
- Being suspended
- Moved to a different office or building
- Negative performance reviews
- Not receiving raises or promotions
- Ridiculed or treated harshly by superiors
- Transferred to another department
- Unjustly reprimanded
This is not an all-inclusive list of retaliatory behaviors. So, what should an employee look for when assessing whether they are being retaliated against? Following are some helpful clues.
- Timing: If you file a complaint against your employer and notice shortly afterward that you are being treated differently for no reason, you could be a victim of retaliation.
- Reason: If you feel there has been an adverse action against you at work, ask why. If the explanation seems unlikely, falls apart, or keeps changing, this could be retaliation. If other managers give you a different reason, this could also be a sign of them covering for the retaliation.
- Sudden Changes: If your employer’s attitude and treatment of you change suddenly and without apparent cause, this can be proof of retaliation. This is particularly true when no other employees are treated differently, and your job performance or productivity has not changed.
How Do I Prove Retaliation?
Consult with a lawyer first. They can help you with collecting evidence and proving your case.
At work, begin noting the dates and behavior of the retaliatory actions. Write thorough descriptions of what happened, who was involved, and when the instances occurred. Keep an ongoing journal and save copies of any written correspondence related to the retaliation. Video or audiotape the occurrences if possible.
For a successful employer retaliation claim, your lawyer must be able to prove three elements:
- You took part in protected activity
- Your employer retaliated against you for that activity, and
- Your employer’s retaliatory action was in response to the protected activity.
Taking part in protected activity means that you asserted your rights or the rights of a co-worker, such as reporting illegal discrimination or other unlawful activity. Rights also include participating in an investigation into claims filed by co-workers.
For example, if a co-worker files a claim alleging sexual discrimination and you become a witness, the law protects you against retaliation for your part. Note that an employer cannot pressure you to refuse to cooperate with investigations or lie for them.
The Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Burnham Douglass Defend Victims of Retaliation in the Workplace
Workplace retaliation is illegal. If you are a victim of this illegal behavior, let our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Burnham Douglass help you find justice. Call us today at 856-751-5505 to schedule a free consultation or contact us online. We have offices in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey. We proudly serve clients in South Jersey, Camden County, Burlington County, Atlantic County, Gloucester