If you've recently taken part in a protected activity at your workplace (such as reporting or objecting to discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, age, or pregnancy, for example), you should be on the lookout for signs of retaliation.
State and Federal Law
The state of Georgia strictly limits liability for workplace retaliation, offering little job protection to workers with few exceptions. Under Georgia law, workplace retaliation is only protected if it relates to sexual discrimination, discrimination against the disabled, or misuse of public funds.
Fortunately, there are federal laws in place that provide additional worker protections for employees who work in states where state law comes up short. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency charged with investigating retaliation cases related to federally protected grounds such as those enumerated above. Federal laws with anti-retaliation provisions include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), just to name a few.
How a Company Can Retaliate
Although workplace retaliation laws are designed to protect employees, employers may still retaliate. Guidance from an employment attorney should be strongly considered if the employer's response to the employee for a protected complaint includes any of the following:
- Excluding the employee from meetings and decisions
- Refusing to communicate with the employee
- Harassing the employee over trivial matters
- Failing to give the employee raises or promotions
- Failing to stop coworker harassment of the employee
- Relocating the employee to an inconvenient location
- Reassigning the employee to a different department
- Yelling at the employee
A consultation with an employment attorney is a must if the employer's response to the employee's protected complaint includes:
- Cut in the employee's pay or hours
- Demotion of the employee
- Suspension of the employee beyond a reasonable investigation period
- Physically harming the employee
- Termination of the employee
Linking the Retaliation to the Protected Activity
To establish a case for retaliation, the employee must be able to show that the retaliatory action by the employer is related to the protected activity of the employee.
For instance, if an employee objects to sexual misconduct of a superior, and the superior takes an adverse employment action against the employee shortly after the employee's complaint, the employer's action against the employee is likely to be considered retaliatory.
On the other hand, if the adverse employment action is the result of a low performance evaluation, the case for retaliation becomes less clear. If the employee has a history of poor performance evaluations and has been repeatedly warned about performance, it may be difficult to hold the employer responsible for retaliation. If there was a marked decline in performance evaluations just after the protected activity, then the employer may be retaliating and a consultation with an Atlanta employment lawyer is definitely recommended.