What Should Employees Do if They Feel Retaliation?

Firings, threats, harassment, assault and intimidation can all be illegal workplace retaliation.

Firings, threats, harassment, assault and intimidation can all be illegal workplace retaliation.

Anti-retaliation laws are designed to protect workers who exercise their rights under the law. If you have experienced retaliation from an employer for filing a workers compensation claim or a charge of discrimination, or for another protected activity, you have legal protections at the federal and state levels.

Evidence

If you've been the target of retaliation, your first step is to gather evidence and document events. To pursue a complaint in court, you must prove that you engaged in conduct protected by the law. You must also show that you suffered an adverse action brought about by your conduct. Proving this cause and effect means you must establish a timeline of events. In addition, it's helpful to demonstrate that the employer showed a pattern of hostile action against you, did not treat employees equally or tried to state a false justification for the adverse treatment.

Communication

If you feel you've suffered retaliation, open communication with your employer may resolve the situation, or at least protect your legal rights. You have the right to complain about illegal discrimination in the workplace, for example; if you don't do so, any subsequent charge of retaliation is weakened by your failure to address the discrimination issue. Always document communication with employers to show you followed the company's policies and procedures.

EEOC Claims

You can defend against retaliation by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces the laws against retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination, or for opposing an instance of discrimination in the workplace. Retaliation can mean a firing, a denial of promotion, or a refusal to hire a prospective employee. It also may include threats, assault, negative evaluations or surveillance. Filing a complaint or charge with the EEOC entails a written statement to the agency, after which the EEOC investigates and makes a finding. At the end of the process, the agency may issue a Notice of Right to Sue, and may participate in a lawsuit against the company.

State Law Claims

You are also protected against retaliation for actions protected by state law -- for example, filing a workers' compensation claim. In Florida, Section 440.205 of the state's workers comp law holds that employers may not fire, threaten to fire, intimidate or coerce any employee who has made a valid compensation claim. To file a 440.205 claim of retaliation, you would bring a suit against the employer in the local county or circuit court, which has jurisdiction over state law claims. A charge of retaliation for taking unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, on the other hand, would be filed in federal district court, which handles claims under federal statutes such as the FMLA.

 

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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