Whistleblower laws and other protections often begin once you make a formal complaint. However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains that any time you engage in a protected activity, you have protection against retaliation.
Understanding protected activities can enable you to better know when your rights start. It also allows you to be more aware of retaliation your employer may be taking against you as a result of your actions.
Standing up for others
One type of protected activity that is outside filing an actual complaint is when you stand up for someone else suffering discrimination, harassment or another situation. Whether you speak out or serve as a witness for this person, you have protection for taking those actions.
Refusing to involve yourself
Another situation where you may express negative feelings about a situation is refusing to involve yourself in it. For example, refusing to do something you feel is illegal or not participating in the harassment of a coworker are both examples of protected activities.
Even if you do not file a formal complaint, bringing issues to the attention of a superior or the company is still a right you have. It is also under protection. Even if speaking up is simply asking questions or trying to get more information, it is something you have the right to do without suffering any type of retaliation as a result.
Another protected action is asking for help. This could be asking for accommodations to help you do your job or asking for someone to look into a situation involving harassment. You have the right to ask for these things to happen without worrying it could cause you trouble.
Your rights against retaliation from your employer are rather broad. If it connects in any way to any protected situation, then your employer is likely in the wrong by doing something negative to you as a result.