What is Workplace Retaliation and How to Address It

Retaliation claim lying on the desk with gavel - workplace retaliation concept

Instances of retaliation in the workplace are not uncommon, and it can come in many different forms. Under both Ohio and federal law, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for reporting discrimination, filing a complaint about harassment, or whistleblowing. If you’re an employee, it’s important to understand that you have crucial workplace rights — and an employer is prohibited from terminating you or taking adverse action against you for exercising them.

What is Retaliation in the Workplace?

Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee who engaged in protected activity, such as reporting discrimination or harassment. There are two types of workplace retaliation that can occur — direct retaliation and indirect retaliation. Direct retaliation is apparent and can include a variety of overt actions that can negatively impact your career, such as:

  • Demoting an employee
  • Cutting an employee’s pay
  • Giving a performance evaluation lower than it should be
  • Transferring an employee to a less desirable location
  • Engaging in verbal or physical harassment
  • Wrongfully terminating an employee
  • Suspending an employee
  • Cutting an employee’s hours
  • Threatening disciplinary action

Indirect retaliation, also referred to as “subtle retaliation,” can be much more difficult to prove. Some employees may not even realize they are being retaliated against. For instance, indirect retaliation can include creating unrealistic expectations for performance, excluding employees from meetings, excessive monitoring, and increased scrutiny. Significantly, employers often attempt to conceal retaliation with pretextual reasons in order to avoid legal consequences, making it even harder to establish that retaliation has occurred.

What Types of Actions Should an Employee Be Able to Take Without Fear of Retaliation?

By law, an employee should be able to make complaints about discrimination or harassment to their employer — and otherwise engage in legally protected activity — without fear of workplace retaliation. There are various types of protected activity in which employees may participate in the workplace. Specifically, employers may not retaliate against employees who for engaging in the following conduct:

  • Reporting employer misconduct or unfair labor practices
  • Reporting an employer’s illegal activity
  • Cooperating with whistleblowing investigations
  • Requesting a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Filing for Workers’ Compensation benefits after a workplace accident
  • Serving as a witness for another employee’s complaint
  • Reporting health or safety hazards
  • Engaging in union activity

An employee should never be punished or retaliated against for standing up for themselves or their fellow employees in the workplace. Critically, there are many other types of protected activity in the workplace in addition to those listed above. If you aren’t certain whether a particular activity or form of conduct is protected under the law, it’s best to consult with a knowledgeable employment law attorney.

What Should You Do if You’ve Been Retaliated Against in the Workplace?

To establish that retaliation in the workplace occurred, you must show 1) you were engaged in a protected activity; 2) you suffered an adverse employment action; 3) there was a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. To strengthen your claim, you should start to collect any relevant evidence as soon as possible. This can include gathering documentation such as emails, text messages, memorandums, notes, and other communication in connection with the retaliation. You should also look to your employee handbook to determine whether there are any anti-retaliation policies in place.

A skillful employment law attorney can best advise you regarding the course of action you should take if you’ve experienced retaliation in the workplace. However, before you can commence a lawsuit, you may need to first exhaust your administrative remedies by filing a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, depending on the facts of your case. These agencies investigate retaliation claims and offer a voluntary mediation program — but you can also request a “right-to-sue” letter if you wish to pursue a lawsuit.

By filing a lawsuit, you may be entitled to recover back pay, front pay, attorney’s fees, court costs, and compensatory damages. A court may also order reinstatement to the same position and pay you would have earned but for your employer’s retaliatory conduct. If the employer’s conduct was particularly egregious, punitive damages may be awarded to punish them and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Employment Law Attorney

Matters involving retaliation in the workplace can be complex. If your employer subjected you to an adverse employment action as a result of engaging in protected activity, it’s important to have an attorney by your side who can assist you with securing the justice you deserve. Located in Westlake and offering reliable representation to clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak is dedicated to advocating for the rights of workers who have been wronged by their employers. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can assist you.