Being punished at work can be frustrating, upsetting, and even embarrassing. In some cases, it could also be illegal if your employer’s actions are actually unlawful retaliation..
Understanding Workplace Retaliation
Retaliation occurs when managers, supervisors, or employers take actions that would dissuade employees from engaging in protected activity, such as asserting their legal rights, or that punish punish them for doing so.
Retaliation can take many different forms. Some common examples of what it can look like include:
- Firing you for reporting an unsafe workplace;
- Giving you a poor performance review because you took family or medical leave
- Demoting you after filing a harassment complaint;
- Transferring you to a less desirable schedule, location or project for requesting an accommodation
- Spreading rumors or gossip about you after you rejected sexual advances
These actions can not only unfairly penalize you, but can also create a chilling effect that discourages others from asserting their rights.
The Gray Area: What is not retaliation?
The tricky thing about retaliation is that these same actions can be entirely lawful under different circumstances. For instance, a poor performance review may be justified if your work genuinely needs improvement.
And employers can be well within their rights to terminate, demote, or discipline employees as long as they have a legitimate, lawful basis for doing so.
Navigating the Gray Zone:
Proving retaliation can be challenging if your employer punishes or fires you, but it is not impossible. To protect your rights, it helps to keep records such as work-related correspondence and documents, especially those related to protected activities and your employer’s actions.
An attorney can help you examine voicemails, performance reviews, emails, and other relevant information for indications of retaliation. By connecting these dots, you may be able to pursue legal action and seek financial damages from your employer for violating your rights.