Retaliation in the workplace typically occurs when an employer takes punitive action against an employee who is acting to alleviate discrimination. Intimidation is intended to prevent an employee from pursuing, or continuing to pursue, some action in response to protected discrimination. Federal law in many instances protects employees who face intimidation and retaliation.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission maintains and enforces guidelines that protect employees from intimidation and retaliation in cases related to discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, disability, sex and national origin. The EEOC bases these regulations on federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Civil Rights Act. Activities that qualify for protection under EEOC guidelines include complaints of discrimination against yourself or coworkers to any other person, picketing or participating in demonstrations to oppose discrimination, refusing to participate in discriminatory conduct or threatening to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC or other regulatory body.
The Whistleblower Protection Program is a part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that seeks to deter employers from intimidating or retaliating against employees for certain protected actions. Whistleblower protection policy is based on analysis of around 20 statutes relating to particular industries or actions. Because of this, these protected actions are quite varied, but generally protect employees who report violations to regulatory bodies or law enforcement from intimidation and retaliation.
Adverse actions are the negative consequences perpetrated by employers in an effort to punish or intimidate employees. The regulations from the EEOC and OSHA are very similar concerning adverse actions. These actions most commonly include firing, denying promotion or refusing to hire an employee in response to protected actions, but may also include unnecessarily poor evaluations or references to future employers, surveillance, threats, or more serious actions like physical assaults or frivolous legal actions. These actions must not be reasonably attributable to poor work performance or other legitimate causes.
Under EEOC guidelines, even those who are peripherally involved in discrimination actions against their employer may seek protection from intimidation or retaliation. This includes the employee against whom an employer discriminated, anyone who suggests that another employee take action due to discrimination, or anyone who complains about discrimination. Employees with close relationships to someone who participated in protected actions, such as a spouse or sibling, are also protected. Other than the whistleblower, individuals protected by OSHA vary depending on the relevant statutes.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images