Each year, thousands of American workers are demoted, denied benefits or even lose their jobs because they refuse to let discrimination or harassment undermine their self-worth in the workplace. Instead of rewarding these employees for reporting injustices and illegal activities that could snowball into a variety of other issues, employers reprimand them instead, sending a clear message to other employees to stick with the status quo.
As devastating as retaliation can be to one's career and psyche, it can be difficult to prove, especially in states like Georgia where at-will employment is protected. Under state law, a company in Georgia can terminate one's employment for any reason or no reason at all.
However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strictly prohibitsretaliation in response to discrimination claims, providing you protection under federal law, whether you report an incident of discrimination, talk with federal agencies about a case, or testify on behalf of another worker who filed his or her own case. Adverse actions in response to reporting discrimination or harassment can include everything from altering one's employment status, creating a hostile work environment, or threatening or assaulting the victim.
To help your case, it is important you work with an employment law firm like Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP who can assist you in gathering evidence and analyzing why your employer retaliated against you. Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving workers' rights, offers six ways to determine if there is a link between your claim and the employer's adverse action.
- Did the decision maker in your company discuss his or her reasons for your change in employment status? If you believe the reasons aren't legitimate, be sure to refer to positive past performance reports, emails complimenting your performance, and any other records that document your worth as an employee.
- Has your employer stated in writing a reason that is illegal? While it would be rare, an email or other record could state you are being fired because you filed a complaint.
- Do the circumstances of timing, animosity, or a pattern reveal what the employer's true motives are? If there was no sign prior to the reporting that your job was at risk, be sure to document the fact. Also, keep detailed records of your interaction with your supervisors and HR department in case there is a lack of investigation into your case.
- If your company has a progressive discipline policy, was it sped up or ignored in your case? Many businesses have discipline policies based on a warning system. If you are fired with no previous warnings, it may be a sign you are being reprimanded for your protected activities.
- Have other employees been fired for whistleblowing or retaliatory reasons? If there is unequal treatment between complaining and non-complaining employees or if there is a pattern of harassment or hostility toward whistleblowers, your job is likely at risk.
- The use of false evidence – As mentioned, employers in at-will states can fire an employee for any reason. Be sure you maintain records to disprove any false evidence that is presented in defense of your termination.
Retaliation in the workplace is often a matter of you said/they said. The process can be both difficult and disheartening, but by following proper protocol and gathering the right evidence, you can keep on pursuing your case, regardless of who stands in your way. For more information on proving retaliation, contact the employment attorneys at Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP.