State and federal laws have strict rules for how employers may engage with, reward and discipline employees. Some of the most prominent of these employment laws have to do with workplace retaliation.
In the most basic sense, retaliation refers to an adverse action an employee takes for otherwise illegal reasons. The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division provides a precise definition of workplace retaliation.
According to the DOL, retaliation occurs when an employer — either directly or through a higher-up — takes adverse action against or terminates an employee simply for the fact that the employee engaged in a protected activity. This type of adverse action is designed to dissuade either the target employee or other employees from raising concerns about potential violations. Employers also retaliate in an attempt to prevent employees from engaging in protected activities.
Examples of workplace retaliation
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides examples of retaliation. Per the EEO, retaliation may occur if an employer reacts in one of the following ways to a protected activity:
- Gives a poor performance evaluation without justification or reprimands the employee in some way
- Engages in physical or verbal abuse toward the employee
- Transfers the employee to a less desirable position
- Increases scrutiny over the employee
- Threatens to report the employee to the authorities, or actually reports the employee to authorities (authorities being the police, immigration, etc.)
- Spreads false rumors about the employee or his or her family, and/or treats the employee or a member of his or her family poorly
- Makes the employee’s employment more difficult (such as by changing his or her schedule from the day shift to night)
Retaliation is a recoverable offense for target employees. However, to secure a positive judgment, claimants must thoroughly understand their rights and the process of recovery.