Employees are under a lot of pressure to not upset their employers, and so they may not feel comfortable taking actions that their employers won’t like. However, the public has an interest in learning the truth, and so the law offers protections for employees who exercise their legal rights to report illegal or unsafe activity in the workplace. One of the most important ways state and federal laws protect these workers is through laws prohibiting certain types of workplace retaliation.
Illegal workplace retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. This activity can include reporting sexual harassment, illegal discrimination or unsafe working conditions, or otherwise blowing the whistle on unlawful behavior.
Many actions can be considered retaliation, including firing, job shift, demotion and salary reduction. But many employees do not know what situations may qualify as illegal retaliation.
Legally defined retaliation follows limited rules and to many employees this can be confusing. First, an employee needs to have been engaged in legally protected activity. This is defined as engaging in an activity in good faith in a complaint against the employer for legally defined discrimination. Second, employee participation in the legally protected activity needs to be why the employer took action against the employee. An adverse employment action must cause a change to an employee’s employment status.
Sometimes this change in employment status means a demotion, or a reassignment. In such a case, the worker may have a strong case for unlawful retaliation. In other cases, the worker has been fired. If an employer fired an employee in retaliation for the employer’s exercise of legally protected rights, then the employer has broken the law. In such a case, the employee should seek out help from an employment law attorney to learn about their rights and options. In some cases, a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination may be the best solution.