You may not know that in most states you can be fired for a bad reason, a good reason or for no reason at all. A company can fire you without cause in states that utilize at-will employment agreements. But a company that fires you for complaining about the inappropriate behavior of another employee is putting itself at great risk, especially if the employee harassed you or another worker.
Whistleblower Act and Law of Retaliation
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects people from retaliation because they reported a violation of law or wrongdoing by a federal agency or employee. This law applies to those who work in federal government. Congress has made retaliation by private sector employers unlawful; but that doesn't mean a company can't fire you if you report inappropriate behavior. The recourse that you have for being fired for reporting inappropriate behavior is contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a claim.
Hostile-Free Work Environment
You have a right to a work environment free of hostility based on discrimination. If someone is intimidating you, harassing you, making offensive sexual, gender, race or other prejudicial remarks about you or someone in a protected class, it is your responsibility to speak up. To ensure that you stick to the facts, keep a record of the behavior exhibited by the other employee. Write down dates and times of occurrences and note the presence of any witnesses to report what was said or done accurately.
Reporting Inappropriate Behavior
In addition to a factual record, it helps if a co-worker who witnessed the event is willing to back your position. Ensure that you use the proper channels for reporting inappropriate behavior. Your company's personnel manual should outline the steps you must take in these situations. Follow the steps to ensure you comply with the company's requirements. Make it a practice to avoid discussing the situation with your co-workers.
If you work for a small business, the EEOC may not be required to enforce the "law of retaliation." On general issues, businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by the laws EEOC enforces. You can contact the local EEOC field office to determine if it can help you. The EEOC can also direct you to another agency or department that might help. If not, keep in mind that the state in which you live might have specific laws that prevent discrimination or retaliation for reporting the inappropriate behavior of another employee.
- Diversity Inc: Workplace Retaliation Claims Rising
- U.S. Department of Labor: Whistleblower Protections
- Minnesota Department of Human Rights: The Rights You Thought You Had (but Don't)
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Retaliation
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Coverage of Business/Private Employers
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
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