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Workplace Retaliation: What Are Your Rights?

Cases of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace have been making headlines over the last several months, and more victims are coming forward than ever before. Federal law provides protection for workers who report issues on the job, shielding them from negative retaliation.

In a perfect world, all companies would comply with these regulations, but in the real world, a surprising number of organizations don't follow these rules as closely as they should. Because of this, it is important that you know your rights so you can protect yourself from companies whose practices are less than reputable. 

Retaliation Basics 

At its most basic level, retaliation is any negative action your company takes against you after you have reported an incident in the workplace, including sexual harassment, discrimination, unethical business practices, human rights violations, unsafe working conditions and more. Possible negative actions could include: 

  • Getting passed over for a promotion 
  • Reducing your salary or denying a raise 
  • Changing your shift schedule 
  • Denying access to training and mentoring opportunities 
  • Taking disciplinary actions 
  • Terminating employment 
  • And any other actions that adversely affect your career and opportunities 

Of course, your employer may have legitimate reasons for taking these actions against you, which can make it challenging to prove that retaliation is taking place. You'll need to carefully document what is going on in order to build the strongest possible case. 

Even if your initial claim of discrimination or harassment turns out to be false, as is often the case with misunderstanding or miscommunication, you are still protected against any retaliation from your employer. At the time you made your claim, you believed it to be true, and that is what matters in these types of cases. 

Protected Actions and Employees 

All employees are entitled to the same protection from retaliation, from the lowliest intern to the highest executive. No matter what your status with your company, it cannot take negative action against you for reporting an incident. 

You are not just protected in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination; federal law also provides protection in a number of other scenarios, including: 

  • Serving as a witness in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation 
  • Providing evidence or observations in an internal investigation 
  • Refusing to complete assignments that would result in discrimination against others 
  • Stepping in to protect another employee from harassment or discrimination 
  • Requesting information about salaries to point out gender inequality 
  • Requesting special accommodation for religious beliefs or disabilities 

This is just a small sampling of protected actions and is not comprehensive. Any time you are shining a light on something your company is doing that you don't believe to be fair or legal, you will likely find protection under workplace retaliation law if your employer takes action against you after the fact. 

Your claims don't necessarily have to be true for you to be protected, but they must have been made in good faith. This means that you must truly believe that you are being retaliated against, even if that turns out to not really be the case. You cannot make a false claim of retaliation simply in an attempt to get back at someone in your organization for a perceived offense. 

Identifying Retaliation 

Retaliation can be somewhat subjective, making it difficult to identify and prove. Let's take a look at a few examples to further clarify this issue. In both of these cases, it may seem to be retaliation at first, but further examination could reveal other reasons for the perceived slights. 

Scenario 1 - A Single Mother 

A single mother is working in a restaurant, typically working the lunch shift while her children are in school. One of her coworkers makes an untoward comment to her about her children's father not being in their lives. She reports her teammate to her supervisor, and he is disciplined for the offense. Of course, the offending party could just as easily be female; this is just an example. 

After reporting the issue to her manager, the woman suddenly finds her schedule changed to all evening shifts. While this might not seem like retaliation to other employees, it makes things incredibly difficult for her, both personally and financially, as she must now hire a babysitter to care for her children and night and misses out on spending time with her kids after school. 

At first glance, this might seem like a classic case of retaliation. However, when she approaches her manager about the situation, he explains that one of their evening workers had resigned, and he needed a skilled server to fill in. As one of the longest-tenured servers, the mother was the ideal choice for the job. After learning her reasons for protesting the switch, her manager was more than happy to change her schedule back to accommodate her needs, so this wasn't retaliation after all. 

Scenario 2 - Moving to the Corner Office 

A man has been working for his company for nearly 10 years and has consistently met and exceeded his company's goals and expectations. When a higher position opens up, everyone thinks he is a shoe-in for the role. A few weeks before the promotion is announced, a project comes up that would really seal the deal for him. However, the project manager refuses to allow him to participate due to his sexual orientation. 

Of course, the man reports this to his supervisor, but shortly after, it is announced that the company has chosen to hire someone else for the new position. When the man asks his supervisor what happened, hoping to gain some constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement, he is unable to get a straight answer. His manager behaves evasively, artfully dodging the questions and giving vague responses. 

Because his work performance had not deteriorated from its usual exemplary status and the manager is unable to provide a specific reason for his not getting the promotion, this case could very well be deemed retaliation. If, on the other hand, it turns out that the employee who did get the promotion was more qualified, then a claim of retaliation would likely not be possible. The man in this scenario would need to continue to dig to get to the root of the case to ensure that he has a valid claim. 

First Steps 

If you feel that you are the victim of discrimination, harassment or other workplace offenses, your first action should be to report the issue to your supervisor or human resources department. Take care to provide detailed documentation of the incident to be included in the file. 

After you make your report, continue to monitor how your company treats you after the fact. Retaliation may not show up immediately after your report; it may take weeks or even months for you to notice it taking place. Continue to keep detailed documentation of any actions you take or that your company takes against you. Every detail you can provide will bolster your case if it has to go to court. 

Before letting things get that far, bring your suspicions of retaliation to the attention of your manager or HR team. In some cases, the person doing the retaliating may not even be aware of the problem, like in the scenario above with the single mother. Hopefully, your manager will do everything possible to change things back to the way they were and make things right with you once more. 

Of course, your supervisor may refuse to admit that retaliation is taking place, even if it clearly is. In this case, you may need to take more drastic action to get the retaliation to stop. If you are unable to obtain satisfactory resolution of your case on your own, it may be time to call in a legal specialist in this area. 

Taking Legal Action 

To bring your case to court, you can hire an attorney and file a lawsuit, or you can report the situation to the EEOC or a local organization that specializes in worker protection. If there have been other, similar complaints about your company in the past, you may be able to bring in other current and past employees to make an even stronger case with the ultimate goal of stopping the retaliation from happening in the future. 

Your attorney will undoubtedly ask that you provide as much evidence as possible, so this is where all that documentation you've been amassing will come in handy. The more information and proof you can provide, the stronger your case will be and the greater your chances of winning in court. 

Go through old emails, performance reviews and other documentation from before you filed your incident report, as well as more recent documentation. This will enable you to show the contrast between how things where before you made the report versus how they are after the fact. The more differences you can show, the greater the likelihood that your case will be confirmed as retaliation. 

Finding a Workplace Retaliation Attorney 

When choosing an attorney to represent your interests in court, it is important that you take the time to choose wisely. These cases are notoriously difficult to prove, so you want to find an attorney who has experience in this area and knows what the judge will be looking for to prove your case. 

Don't be shy about asking questions about anything you don't understand. Your attorney will not expect you to be an expert on matters of workplace retaliation, so don't be ashamed about what you don't know. Asking questions will help you to better understand your case, the legal process and any further steps you need to take to keep things moving along. 

Fighting Your Case in Court 

Workplace retaliation trials can get quite emotional, as your livelihood and career are at stake. It is important not to let your emotions get the better of you, potentially damaging your claim. When you find yourself getting emotional, take a step back and take a deep breath. Give yourself a moment to calm down before starting to speak again. It is perfectly acceptable to request a short break if you feel that you need one. 

Because these trials can be complex, as you try to prove your case and your employer tries to disprove it, they can often go on for longer than you might expect. Have patience and trust that your attorney is familiar with the process and is doing everything they can to win your case. 

The Aftermath 

Whether you win or lose your case, keep an eye out for any ongoing changes in the way you are treated at work. If you win your case, your manager may continue to harbor resentment against you after remedying the initial retaliation, so you need to on the lookout for future retaliatory efforts. 

Of course, you would hope that winning your case would solve the issue, but it is still important to stay vigilant in order to protect yourself going forward. The last thing you want is to get retaliated against for bringing a claim of retaliation in the first place. 

California Sexual Harassment Attorney Can Help 

Here at California Sexual Harassment Attorney, we have helped many employees and employers with cases of sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace retaliation. We are willing to go the extra mile for our clients and will do everything we can to win your case. Of course, we cannot guarantee a particular result from your trial, but what we can promise is that we are working hard on your behalf to get a favorable resolution to your case. 

We recognize that some of the topics we'll need to discuss with you may make you feel a bit uncomfortable, as the details of these incidents can be highly personal. Our attorneys are well aware of how difficult this situation can be for you, so we will always work with you with the utmost in discretion and compassion. 

We would never expect you to hire us without having all the information you need to make an educated decision. We welcome you to meet with us for a free consultation to discuss the details of your case. Your attorney can advise you as to whether or not you have a legitimate case of retaliation on your hands and can offer guidance on the next steps to bring your case to court. 

Reach out to us today to make an appointment for your free consultation. There is no obligation to sign with us, but after speaking with one of our attorneys and getting all of your questions answered, we're sure you'll want to. Call 800-905-1856 today to get started.

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