Workplace Retaliation: What You Need to Know

Despite laws in place to protect employees against discrimination and harassment in the workplace, there are still people who don’t report their experiences because they are afraid of what could happen to them.

Consider the recent developments in Hollywood. Several actresses have come forward with sexual harassment allegations years after the experiences occurred. Many of these women were afraid to speak up because they knew they’d face repercussions that could end their careers. Their harasser and anyone supporting him would black ball the actresses and despite any laws in place to protect them, they’d be jeopardizing their livelihood.

The women coming forward has revealed an epidemic in Hollywood, and while it might not be quite that bad in the “regular” working world, there are still plenty of instances in which harassment and discrimination occur. And there are also instances in which people who report the actions of their co-workers and supervisors face retaliation.

The good news is just as there are laws to protect against harassment and discrimination, there are also laws protecting against retaliation. The same is true if you report wrongdoing within a company that is not directly targeting you.

When Does Retaliation Occur?

Retaliation is a negative reaction to something. It occurs when an employer punishes you for reporting their actions. Though it’s not a good idea to speak disparagingly about your employer, if laws are being broken, employees should speak up. Unfortunately, employers don’t always see it this way.

Retaliation comes in all shapes and sizes. It can range from being treated poorly in the workplace and being harassed because you spoke up to being demoted or terminated, having your salary reduced, being reassigned, or being disciplined in some other way.

Retaliation does not need to be obvious. Just because you are not fired does not mean you are not a victim of retaliation. If you are treated in a way that deters you from making a complaint or seems to be a negative reaction to you having made a complaint, you could be a victim of retaliation.

It’s also important to note that retaliation is prohibited even when an employee’s accusations prove to be incorrect.

For instance, let’s say you reported an incident that appeared to be racially discriminatory, but an investigation determined that was not the case. Your employer cannot retaliate against you because they were wrongly accused.

Protections are also in place for employees who cooperate with investigations. If you participate as a witness in an investigation into your employer you cannot be punished.

These “whistleblower” protections ensure you are free to speak openly and honestly, in good faith, with investigating authorities, and your employer cannot punish you, even if what you say proves to be incorrect.

To read more about laws protecting whistleblowers, check out the US Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Program.

How to Respond to Retaliation

In some cases, facing retaliation can be as frightening, if not more so, than the original event. Maybe you were harassed by a co-worker and you reported it, but now as a result, you feel your job is at risk. You aren’t just concerned for your own safety and comfort, you’re worried about your livelihood.

If you believe you are facing retaliation, the first thing you can do is ask if that’s the case. Talk to human resources, explain your concerns, and find out why the event that seems retaliatory occurred. If you are not given an adequate explanation, you can take your concerns to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It’s also a good idea to speak to an attorney who understands workplace laws and can help you determine if your experience was truly retaliation.

To learn more about retaliation or to speak to an experienced legal professional regarding your experience, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C..

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