The relationship between employees and employers is typically fairly straightforward. Employers make rules and enforce them and employees are expected to comply with them. If an employee does or says something that an employer doesn't like or agree with, it is very possible that the employee will face some consequences. An example of this could be when an employer demotes or fires someone for cursing at a client or for lying on an important document.
However, there are strict limitations on when, how and if employers can take this sort of action. These limitations protect employees from acts of retaliation.
Retaliation is defined as subjecting an employee to adverse actions for participating in protected actions. These actions may include:
- Filing a complaint about sexual harassment
- Raising concerns or complaining about discrimination
- Participating in the investigation of harassment or discrimination claims
- Reporting unsafe work conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Requesting workplace accommodations for religious purposes
- Acting as a whistleblower
Essentially, retaliation laws are in place to protect workers who are exercising their rights from being punished for doing so.
Employers should avoid taking any adverse action against an employee engaged in the above-mentioned acts. They should not fire, demote, reassign, decrease pay, relocate or take benefits from employees who are participating in protected activities. If they do, employers could face legal action by an employee, including a wrongful termination lawsuit.
However, not all employment disputes and decisions are black-and-white. There can be a lot of confusion over what is a protected act, which employees are protected and what constitutes an adverse action. This is why it can be wise to discuss concerns or questions about this issue with an employment law attorney.