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EEOC holds hearing on retaliation in the workplace

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) met last week to discuss the issue of retaliation in the workplace. Many employees may be unfamiliar with the concept of workplace retaliation, but it is a growing concern for the EEOC.

In testimony presented to the Commission, an attorney from the Office of Legal Counsel noted that recently, retaliation claims have surpassed race discrimination claims as the most frequent charge. For many years, race discrimination cases had been the predominate claim.

The growth is demonstrated by the fact that the "reasonable cause" rate for charges of retaliation alone has now become greater than the rate for all other types of discrimination. "Reasonable cause" means the EEOC has believes evidence shows reasonable cause that discrimination occurred.

The Commission is also focusing on this type of discrimination because it, in effect, punishes a victim twice. First they suffer some wrong or discrimination, and then, because of retaliation, they are prevented from vindicating their rights or punish in the attempt.

A key to retaliation cases is "protected activity." This means filing a complaint or charge with the EEOC or any other participation in the process of investigating a charge of discrimination.

A protected activity may include rebuffing unwanted sexual advances, asking for a reasonable accommodation for a disability or refusing to engage in discriminatory behavior when ordered to by a supervisor.

Retaliation is never pleasant, and an employee may find himself or herself suddenly ostracized and made into a pariah, all for standing up for their rights and the rights of other workers.

The federal government and the EEOC, as large and powerful as they are, cannot police every workplace all of the time. This means employees have to be willing to risk their jobs and do what is right. Protecting them from retaliation is essential to protecting everyone's right to fair employment.

Source: EEOC.gov, "Commissioners Examine Strategies to Reduce Retaliation in the Workplace," June 17, 2015

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