Knowing how to handle retaliation in the workplace will help you stop the mistreatment and hold the responsible co-workers, managers, and supervisors accountable. Dealing with problems ranging from insults to losing your job will never be easy, but responding appropriately helps you ensure that the individuals who violated your rights as an employee pay the consequences of their illegal actions.
Recognize Retaliation When It Happens
Workplace retaliation takes many forms, ranging from subtle but hurtful comments to physical assaults and from feeling forced to quit or getting fired outright. To constitute grounds for taking legal action, retaliation must meet the legal definition of an adverse employment action.
Examples of adverse employment actions include
- Verbal abuse so severe that going into work and keeping a job becomes unbearable;
- Physical bullying;
- Demotions, including reductions in pay and benefits even if no transfer or reduction in responsibilities occurs;
- Reassignment to dangerous, dirty, or low-prestige positions, especially if the intent is to make the reassigned employee so miserable that he or she quits; and
Understand Why Retaliation in the Workplace Occurs
Grounds for filing a retaliation complaint or pursuing a retaliation lawsuit exist when the retaliation follows engagement in what are called “protected activities.”
Protected activities for employees include, but are not limited to
- Reporting violations of laws, regulations, or employer policies;
- Reporting harassment or discrimination;
- Participating in investigations of allegations of wrongdoing;
- Taking paid leave or unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act;
- Participating in union organizing activities; or
- Exercising First Amendment rights such as praying privately during authorized breaks or taking part in political campaigns outside of work.
Individuals who report legal violations, harassment, or discrimination are also entitled to a range of whistleblower protections under federal and Ohio laws.
Document and Report the Retaliation
Victims of workplace retaliation should save emails and memos, take notes on conversations and meetings, describe physical confrontations in writing, and keep pay stubs. These records will be essential for proving that retaliation occurred and for identifying the people who took or authorized adverse employment actions.
Evidence of retaliation should be taken first to a trusted supervisor or the human resources department at one’s employer. Laws require employers to conduct thorough, good-faith investigations of reports of workplace retaliation. When such an investigation uncovers actual retaliation, an employer is obligated to take corrective action.
Consult With an Employment Lawyer Who Has Experience Helping Victims of Workplace Retaliation
Simply reporting retaliation will rarely suffice to end the mistreatment and ensure that the responsible parties answer for their harmful actions. Taking the complaint to an agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and following this up with a civil lawsuit are often required.
Meeting with a dedicated employment attorney as soon as it becomes obvious that you are suffering retaliation will help you understand how to collect and organize evidence, prepare complaints that will result in investigations and official responses, and take further steps through the courts.
Coffman Legal, based in Columbus, Ohio, represents employees who experienced discrimination, harassment, or retaliation at work.