Protecting Employees' Livelihoods for Decades
It's an unfortunate fact that a significant number of workplaces harbor employees who engage in illegal and abusive, or hostile conduct, like sexual harassment. Fortunately, workers personally victimized by or unwilling to condone this sort of misbehavior may seek justice by reporting illegal workplace behavior to the relevant authorities.
That's the right thing to do—but it's also a potentially dangerous thing to do. Employees who choose this option can easily damage their professional relationship with their bosses and supervisors, who may decide to “punish” a worker for their perceived disloyalty. Often this punishment takes the form of job termination, but there are other tactics as well, such as demotion or unwarranted negative evaluations.
Retribution of this nature is illegal, however. It's a practice known as workplace retaliation, and if you believe you have been mistreated by your superiors due to your complaint(s) about misconduct at the company, you should become aware of your rights and possible avenues of redress provided by the law.
At Barrett & Farahany, our team of Atlanta workplace retaliation attorneys can help you fight this kind of injustice. Call us at (404) 238-7299 today to get started.
What Is Retaliation?
It's the plot of many movies: An employee reports the financial or environmental misconduct of his employer or stands up for a coworker who is being harassed, only to have his or her job threatened or – in extreme cases – his or her physical safety.
In real life, retaliation in the workplace is more common than you may realize and just as serious. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency responsible for investigating charges of employer misconduct, retaliation represented 38.1 percent of claims in 2012. In addition, Forbes noted that one in five workers who has reported an ethical breach has faced retribution, and from 2009 to 2011, 8.8 million employees experienced payback from their employers.
Federal regulations make it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against a worker who engages in conduct which the law protects, for instance, trying to oppose or remedy illegal discrimination in the workplace, refusing to engage in conduct you believe to be unlawful, blowing a whistle on company misconduct, or protesting an employer's refusal to allow you to take legally protected leave.
The negative effect retaliation has on a business' “open door” policy and company morale can be devastating. If you are punished for speaking up, your coworkers are going to think twice about reporting any wrong-doing in the organization.
Determining If You're a Victim of Retaliation at Work
Retaliation by definition is not bullying or harassment, though they are aspects of it, but rather an act that is “materially adverse” and likely to “dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Usually, unlawful retaliation takes the form of demotion, threats, or termination, but as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision, it does not have to be confined to employment or occur at the workplace.
Retaliation in the workplace is based in fear – when a manager or the company itself is backed up against the wall for a violation, they are going to use their power to make the problem go away, and the easiest way is to push the whistleblower out of the organization. However, the law is on your side. The EEOC, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a number of other federal acts and agencies have provisions to protect tipsters from retaliation.
Barrett & Farahany, an Atlanta law firm has extensive experience in retaliation cases, can help you prove unlawful motivation behind your termination, demotion, or harassment and recover the remedies you deserve. If you have been the victim of retaliation at work, it's important to show that the employer's excuse is factually untrue, that it was insufficient to have caused your discharge, that it is unworthy of credence, or that it is riddled with errors indicating its essential baselessness.
Doing what's morally and ethically right in the workplace should not be the cause of termination. In fact, you should be applauded for alerting management so that corrective or preventative actions can be taken to repair the damage and minimize the chance of recurrence.
What Are Protected Activities?
As defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are legally protected from workplace retaliation only if they have engaged in “protected activities.”
These include the following:
- Refusing to follow a supervisor's order to carry out an illegal or discriminatory act.
- Complaining to others about the company's discriminatory practices, either those aimed at oneself or another party.
- Filing an official discrimination complaint with the EEOC.
- Participating in an official investigation into the company's discriminatory practices.
- Requesting reasonable workplace accommodations as provided by law (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act).
It's worth pointing out that the law provides these protections to employees so long as they are acting in good faith. This means that they cannot be subjected to retaliation even if the basis of the complaint is later judged to fall below the standard required to prove illegal behavior.
For instance, an employee who is fired for filing a sexual harassment complaint can sue under retaliation laws even if it is determined that the incident(s) that triggered the complaint did not qualify as harassment under the legal definition. If the complaint had a reasonable basis—i.e., the employee wasn't merely lying outright for malicious reasons—then the retaliation laws remain in effect.
Who Is Protected?
An employee who engages in protected activities can benefit from workplace retaliation laws. These laws also extend to those closely associated with a party who engages in protected activities, such as a co-worker who aided an employee in preparing a discrimination claim.
What Workplace Retaliation Isn't
Workplace retaliation laws are intended to protect workers from unjustified loss of employment, including denial of opportunities for advancement. They do not cover relatively minor phenomena such as “coldness” toward an employee who has initiated a discrimination claim.
In addition, employees are required to exercise sound judgment when engaging in protected activities—it is one thing to calmly inform a supervisor about illegal or discriminatory activities, and quite another to threaten a co-worker with violence.