Many employees worry about reporting workplace issues, such as harassment or discrimination, for fear of retaliation. Sometimes an employer’s retaliation tactics are subtle and difficult to prove.
There are several things employees or job applicants may look for when trying to determine whether retaliation is taking place.
Protected actions and activities
According to FindLaw, there are certain activities that qualify for protection under federal antidiscrimination laws. Most of these protected actions fall into one of two categories: participating in an investigation and reporting unlawful behavior.
If an employee assists law enforcement officers or regulatory organizations during an investigation or lawsuit, the law prohibits the employer from firing or disciplining the employee for that assistance. If an employee provides testimony in court or gives information to a federal investigator, the employer may not retaliate by reducing wages or hours or firing the employee.
The other area of protected activities covers reporting unlawful behavior. For example, if a person contacts the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report an unsafe working environment, the law protects that person from retaliation from his or her employer. Protection against retaliation also applies when an employee goes through internal channels to report potentially illegal behavior, such as telling a human resources manager about harassment from a coworker.
Examples of employer retaliation
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides some common examples of retaliatory behavior that an employer may exhibit against an employee. According to the EEOC, an employer’s action must be “materially adverse” in order for the employee to qualify for legal protection. For example, lowering an employee’s performance evaluation score as punishment for reporting discrimination likely counts as a retaliatory measure. Other examples include initiating legal action in civil court, demoting the employee, creating a hostile work environment and threatening an employee’s family members.