What, exactly, is retaliation in the workplace?

On Behalf of | Feb 13, 2024 | Employee Rights

Unlawful retaliation in the workplace is a significant concern involving an employer’s adverse actions against an employee for engaging in legally protected activities. Employers and employees should all know about protected classes and actions as a result.

Retaliation is prohibited under various federal laws, enforced by federal law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and many state laws. This offers protection to employees who assert their rights to be free from workplace discrimination and harassment.

Protected classes and activities

Protected classes refer to specific groups of individuals shielded by law from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These classes include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • National origin
  • Age 40 or older
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Protected activities can include reporting discrimination, participating in an investigation related to employment discrimination or opposing practices deemed unlawful under employment laws.

Forms of retaliation

Retaliation can show up in various forms, ranging from overt actions to more subtle behaviors, which can profoundly impact the affected employee. Examples of retaliation include:

  • Termination or demotion
  • Salary reductions
  • Negative job evaluations or increased scrutiny not justified by the employee’s job performance
  • Transferring the employee to a less desirable position or location
  • Intimidation, threats or creating a hostile work environment

Other actions that would dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a complaint about discrimination

Not all adverse workplace actions constitute retaliation. For an action to be considered retaliatory, there must be a clear link between the employee’s protected activity and the adverse employment action. The employee must show that the adverse action wouldn’t have occurred without their engagement in the protected activity.

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