Workplace Discrimination, Harassment & Retaliation
Unfortunately, it is all too common for retaliation to follow a claim of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. In fact, retaliation claims are on the rise: 57 percent of charges received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Texas were for retaliation.
What is Retaliation?Retaliation is any adverse employment action taken against an employee who has reported, opposed, or participated in an investigation for an unlawful employment practice. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined “adverse employment actions” as any action that would be enough to dissuade an employee from making a complaint of harassment or discrimination. In layman’s terms, any action taken to punish an employee for making a claim or opposing an employer’s unlawful activity is prohibited by law.
Some examples of unlawful retaliatory action include:- Retaliatory termination (termination that is not a result of poor performance)
- Transferring an employee to a different location or department
- Reducing an employee’s salary
- Denying a promotion or raise
- Punishing an employee for taking leave under FMLA
- Giving an employee less favorable assignments
- Disparate treatment (treating the whistleblower differently than other employees)
- Giving poor performance evaluations that don’t reflect the employee’s actual performance
- Punishing an employee for filing a Worker’s Compensation claim
Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation are UnlawfulProtection against retaliation is triggered after an employee makes a claim or participates in an investigation for harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Harassment and discrimination are prohibited by a number of federal laws. These laws likewise prohibit retaliation against employees who “blow the whistle” on employers who are violating the law.
Some of the federal laws that include discrimination, harassment and retaliation provisions include:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace harassment and discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, or national origin. Employees who report violations of Title VII are also protected against employer retaliation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This act enables disabled individuals to make requests for reasonable accommodations so that they can perform the functions of their job. If an employer punishes an individual for making a request or complaint under the ADA, they may face repercussions for unlawful retaliation.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects employees and job applicants who are 40 years old or older from discrimination because of their age. Like the other statutes that protect certain classes of workers, retaliation is prohibited against any employee or applicant who avails themselves of their rights under the ADEA.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information, genetic tests, or family medical history. GINA also prohibits employers from requesting or requiring genetic information about applicants or employees, except in very limited circumstances. If an employee blows the whistle or opposes an employer’s practices that discriminate based on genetic information, they are also protected against retaliation.
Anti-Retaliation Laws Were Made to Protect WhistleblowersLawmakers recognized that reporting unlawful activity in the workplace carries certain risks. If employees could be punished or terminated for reporting discriminatory practices, few reports would occur, and anti-discrimination laws would have virtually no impact in the workplace. That’s why lawmakers included anti-retaliation provisions: to protect employees who help uphold and enforce the law.
As an employee, you have the right to work in an environment that is free of harassment and discrimination. Even when upper management is the source of the illicit behavior, you have the right to voice your concerns without negative employment repercussions.
If you feel you are being punished for speaking up about unlawful activity in the workplace, you have rights.