Various federal and state laws protect employees against retaliation. Retaliation claims are oftentimes easier to prove than other claims such as discrimination. In order to demonstrate retaliation, employees can assert that they opposed, reported or testified about a violation of laws, rules or regulations and suffered a negative job action shortly thereafter. It is illegal for employers to punish or retaliate against workers who blow the whistle on such violations.
Maintain careful documentation
Both employers and employees would benefit from maintaining documentation about complaints or opposition of actions that are alleged to violate laws, such as anti-discrimination laws. Employees can use the documentation to prove that retaliation occurred and should start with the issue that leads to a worker asserting their rights. Employers can guard against retaliation claims by taking their employees’ complaints seriously, having an anti-retaliation policy and following it.
Watch for signs of changing attitudes
Retaliation is sometimes immediate, occurring within hours or days of a worker asserting their rights. Most times, companies will wait a bit after someone lodges a complaint or requests unpaid leave before taking inappropriate actions against that employee. In some cases, the worker might begin receiving lower performance reviews despite continuing to do their job in exactly the same way. Other times, they may simply get passed over for every big promotion or profitable new project after making a report. When someone recognizes a pattern of discriminatory or punitive behavior following their decision to speak up about a workplace issue, they will have an easier time connecting their career setbacks with their protected activity and getting proper legal guidance and support to fight back. Workers who understand their rights and who keep careful records before, during and after asserting their rights may have an easier time protecting themselves from employer misconduct and fighting back if it occurs. Employers should do the same and document investigations and matters outside of the scope of the employee’s complaint, such as a drop in job performance. Be aware though that employers should follow any progressive disciplinary policies they have in place.