The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is tasked with investigating allegations of employment discrimination in the workplace; in fact, contacting the EEOC is a prerequisite for filing a discrimination lawsuit in court against your current or former employer. The EEOC handles complaints about all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination based on race, gender, religion, age, national origin, and disability, and the discrimination can take the form of refusal to hire, workplace harassment, denial of promotions, and many other discriminatory actions. Despite the variety of complaints it accepts, by far the largest category of discrimination complaints that the EEOC receives is complaints about retaliation by employers against employees who asserted their rights to a discrimination-free workplace. To get the best possible resolution in your discrimination case, contact the Atlanta employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP even before you contact the EEOC.
How Can You Tell if Your Employer is Retaliating Against You?
When an employer takes adverse action against an employee, formally or informally, it is sometimes because of something the employee did wrong (such as miscalculating the quantities of supplies the company needed to order and causing shortages of supplies in some locations or behaving rudely toward customers and thereby leaving to customer complaints to management and negative online reviews of the company). When these adverse actions are unwarranted, meaning that the employee did not make any major mistakes in their job or violate company policies, then the adverse actions might constitute discrimination, especially if the employer seems to target employees of a particular race or gender with these adverse actions. If the adverse action happens after the employee files a complaint with the EEOC or with the company’s human resources department about discrimination, harassment, or some other prohibited activity by the employer, then the adverse action counts as retaliation.
These are some examples of adverse actions in the workplace; depending on context, they may constitute retaliation:
- A hostile work environment, where your supervisors micromanage, threaten, and belittle you and your coworkers harass you and make offensive comments
- An undesirable or frequently changing work schedule, which might include a reduction in hours
- Formal disciplinary action, such as writing you up or giving you more frequent performance reviews or less autonomy in your work
- Denial of promotions or raises, either with no explanation or based on unfairly negative performance reviews
- Termination of employment or non-renewal of your employment contract
- Refusal to provide a reference to future employers or providing a negative reference
Additionally, retaliation can entail your employer threatening to ruin your reputation or, if your employer has sponsored your work visa or green card, to take away your immigration status and that of your spouse and children.
Protected Actions and the Rights of Workers in Georgia
The difference between retaliation and just plain discrimination is that, in the case of discrimination, your employer treats you unfairly just because you are you, specifically, because of a protected characteristic such as your race, gender, or disability. Meanwhile, in the case of retaliation, your employer did not mistreat you (or at least did not mistreat you as much) until you voiced your objection about something your employer was doing, whether your objection was to the way your employer behaved toward you or to your employer’s violation of a law or ethical standard.
These are some examples of protected actions:
- Complaining to a work supervisor, the company’s human resources department, or the EEOC about discrimination in the workplace against you or another employee
- Participating in an EEOC investigation about a discrimination complaint that someone else filed against your employer
- Reporting your employer’s violation of a law such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, or Surface Transportation Assistance Act
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim after being diagnosed with an occupational disease or getting injured in an accident at work
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
- Taking a leave of absence from work for reasons covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), such as the employee’s illness, the illness of a family member of the employee, or the birth or adoption of a child
- Requesting and receiving at least $7.25 per hour (the state and federal minimum wage) in non-tipped jobs
- Receiving overtime pay, which is 1.5 times your usual hourly pay rate for every hour past the 40th that you work in one week
Employer Retaliation Lawsuits
If your retaliation complaint is about discrimination, then you cannot file an employment discrimination complaint until you receive written authorization from the EEOC. You must notify the EEOC within just a few weeks of the retaliation happening that you believe that you have grounds for a lawsuit. The EEOC will then launch an investigation and see whether there is enough evidence of retaliation by your employer for you to proceed with a lawsuit. Only then can you file your employer retaliation lawsuit in court.
If your workplace retaliation complaint makes it to the lawsuit stage, your task is then to persuade the court that you engaged in a protected activity, your employer took an adverse action, and the adverse action was because of your engagement in the protected activity. The third of these three claims is the most difficult to prove because your employer can try to use everything you ever said or did in the context of your job against you. The employer can try to make you look like you deserved to get fired and you only complained to the EEOC in order to shift the blame away from yourself. This is why it is important to start working with an employment lawyer early in the process, preferably even before you contact the EEOC.
Contact a Georgia Employment Lawyer About Employer Retaliation
An employment lawyer can help you follow the steps to resolve an employer retaliation complaint through the EEOC or file a lawsuit in court, if necessary. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Atlanta, Georgia to set up a consultation.