Steps to Take After Witnessing Discrimination in the Workplace

Male African American office worker looking distressed in the foreground as business man talks to business woman in the background - witnessing discrimination concept

Workplace discrimination is illegal under both Ohio and federal law — and employees are often encouraged to report violations that they have experienced or witnessed. While there are many ways it can occur, workplace discrimination can be broadly defined as treating an employee or employment applicant differently based on a protected characteristic or membership in a protected class. Critically, an employer may not make decisions regarding pay, hiring, firing, promoting, reassigning, demoting, training, or other terms of employment based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, or military status.

If you observed instances of discrimination at your job and reported them to Human Resources, you might be concerned about retaliation by your employer. Reporting discrimination in the workplace is a protected activity that is commonly referred to as “whistleblowing,” and there are strong laws in place against retaliation. Here are several steps you should take to legally protect yourself after witnessing discrimination in the workplace and reporting it:

Review Your Employee Handbook

Your employee handbook should contain your company’s anti-discrimination policy. It can also provide you with information regarding what to do if you witness discrimination in the workplace. If your employer does not have any clear policies or the employee handbook does not specify the steps you should take regarding workplace discrimination, you should consult with Human Resources to find out what is expected of you.

Document Instances of Retaliation

Documentation is key in a lawsuit for whistleblower retaliation. After witnessing discrimination in the workplace, be sure to keep notes about the specific details concerning any retaliatory conduct. This includes the time and date of the occurrence and the parties involved. Save any emails, text messages, or other communications that may have anything to do with witnessing or reporting the discrimination, as well as any responses you receive.

Understand Your Legal Rights as a Whistleblower

It’s vital to know your legal rights if you are a whistleblower — and when you might be able to file a lawsuit. Under both federal law and the Ohio Civil Rights Act, you are afforded a variety of protections. Specifically, your employer is prohibited from taking any adverse employment action against you for making a report after witnessing discrimination in the workplace and for participating in any investigation or proceeding in connection with it.

An employer may not retaliate against you by:

  • Terminating you from your employment
  • Suspending you from your job
  • Demoting you to a lesser position
  • Withholding your pay or employment benefits
  • Transferring you to a less desirable location
  • Refusing to promote you
  • Reducing your wages or hours
  • Denying you overtime

Although Ohio is an employment-at-will state, an employer may not discharge an employee for any reason that violates public policy. If you were terminated for reporting workplace discrimination or being a witness in a discrimination claim, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit for constructive discharge.

Only Quit as a Last Resort

If you’ve witnessed workplace discrimination and have been retaliated against for reporting it, you might be thinking about quitting your job. But in most cases, resigning makes it far more challenging to obtain relief in a retaliation lawsuit. This is because quitting makes it more difficult to establish that you were subjected to an adverse employment action after witnessing discrimination in the workplace and reporting it. Because this is a required element of a retaliation claim, quitting often makes proceeding with a case far more difficult. In some instances, if your employer created a hostile or intolerable working environment and you were forced to leave your employment, you may have a legal claim for constructive discharge.

Consult with an Employment Law Attorney

Being a witness in a discrimination claim can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s a good idea to consult with an employment law attorney if you have witnessed and reported workplace discrimination. An attorney can evaluate the specific facts of your case and advise you regarding the steps you should take if you are retaliated against by your employer — they can also inform you of the legal remedies that may be available. In addition, an attorney can counsel you and help to safeguard your interests if you are called to testify against your employer in someone else’s workplace discrimination lawsuit.

Contact Lalak LLC to Learn How We Can Help

If you’ve been retaliated against by your employer for reporting discrimination, it’s essential to have knowledgeable legal counsel by your side to help you navigate the process of filing an employment law claim. Located in Westlake and providing representation to clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak is committed to fighting for the rights of employees who have been subjected to adverse employment actions for taking a stand against an employer’s wrongful conduct. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.