We've seen it over and over in the news – an employee witnesses his supervisor or coworker committing an illegal act and reports it to upper management or a government agency. Instead of being hailed as a hero, the employee is considered a traitor and pays for the disclosure with his job, thereby losing his financial security, benefits and possibly his self-worth.
Retaliation is a growing problem in the American workplace – in fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more than 37,000 retaliation claims in 2012 alone. Depending on the situation, the reasons for retaliation differ. The employer may be fearful that disclosure could harm its bottom line or reputation, furious that the employee had the audacity to report an indiscretion, or guilty enough to frighten the employer into keeping his or mouth closed. No matter the reason, thousands of employees each year who file a complaint are fired, demoted, harassed, and even physically threatened.
There are two main types of workplace retaliation, each with its own laws and complaint filing guidelines:
Retaliation for Discrimination and Harassment Claims
An employee may be on the receiving end of retaliation for reporting any misconduct that is illegal under EEOC-enforced laws. These may include violations of:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on one's race, religion, nationality, or gender. Although it is not formally stated in the act, racial or sexual harassment that creates a hostile workplace is included as well.
- The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a period of 12 months to recover from an illness or injury, care for a loved one who is sick, or welcome home a child following birth or adoption.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which guarantees overtime compensation for non-exempt employees.
By law, you can enforce your personal legal rights and support others in their enforcement of these rights without fear of retaliation from your employer. Keep in mind that, in Georgia, any claims for retaliation arising under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must be filed with the EEOC before they can be filed in federal court. There are very strict time limits on when claims must be filed under each of the statutes listed above, so consult with an attorney as soon as you are aware of conduct that may support a retaliation claim.
Retaliation for Whistleblowers
Whistleblowers, on the other hand, report violations of illegal misconduct that pose a direct threat to overall public interest, such as fraud, health and safety violations, environmental concerns, corruption, illegal accounting, and the waste of taxpayer dollars.
Whistleblowing falls under a number of statutes, including, but not limited to, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was enacted to ensure better corporate financial responsibility, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which oversees accountability in the financial services industry.
The last thing you should endure for protecting your company, its employees and the public at large is retaliation from your employer. To understand your rights as a potential victim of whistleblower retaliation, contact the employment lawyers at Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP for more information.