Just because no one complains at your workplace, it does not mean that everything is fine. One of the ways that work supervisors try to intimidate employees out of complaining about discrimination and unfair treatment is by harshly punishing those who complain; these punishments can sometimes even include firing employees who have worked there for years for one small mistake. Employees who witness discrimination or unethical actions at work hesitate to complain because they fear retaliation; they do not want to lose their jobs or, even worse, they do not want their employers to sabotage their chances of getting another job. Your employer may threaten to ruin your career if you speak up about the unfair or illegal behavior that you witness at work, but the law is on your side. Contact the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP if your employer has retaliated against you after you stood up for your own rights or someone else’s, or if you are planning to file a complaint and fear retaliation from your employer.
What Does Employer Retaliation Look Like?
Retaliation means trying to harm someone for something they did that caused problems for you. Employers retaliate against employees for a variety of reasons, but in every case, the employee was in the right. If an employer took adverse action against an employee because of the employee’s misconduct or negligence, that would not be retaliation; employers have the right to fire employees who do not fulfill the duties listed in their employment contracts or who make major mistakes that cause the employer serious financial losses. It is retaliation when the employer is the one acting in a negligent, unethical, or illegal way, and the employee is simply speaking up about it.
Workplace retaliation usually begins when an employer notifies the company’s human resources office or a regulatory body about an ongoing problem the employer has failed to address or about a law or regulation that the employer has knowingly broken. These are examples of workplace situations in which, if you complain, there is a risk of retaliation from your employer:
- Filing a complaint with the human resources office or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about discrimination based on a protected category (race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, or disability)
- Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability
- Notifying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about a safety hazard in your workplace
- Participating in an investigation about employment discrimination, OSHA violations, or any other kind of ethical violation
- Filing a qui tam action (whistleblower claim) pursuant to the False Claims Act, alleging that your employer has engaged in fraudulent business dealings with the federal government
In addition to the protected categories recognized under federal law, North Carolina law also prohibits discrimination based on military status or on having bee diagnosed with HIV, hemoglobin C trait or sickle cell trait, even if you are healthy and do not have symptoms of disease.
As for what form the retaliation can take, it can look a lot like the original act of discrimination itself; in other words, the behavior about which you complained could simply get worse. Any of the following adverse actions may be considered retaliation if they begin shortly after you complain about wrongdoing on your employer’s part. These are some examples of retaliatory actions:
- Refusal to hire you
- Refusal to give to the same pay raises that other employees in your same position have received
- Termination of your employment or refusal to renew your employment contract when it is up for renewal
- An unfairly negative performance review
- Providing negative references to prospective employers when you apply for other jobs
- Rescinding an offer of employment
- Assigning you difficult work tasks but not giving you the instructions or resources required to complete them, effectively making your job impossible
- Demoting you or decreasing your pay
- Refusing your requests for paid or unpaid leave to which you are entitled by law or pursuant to your employment contract
Besides these adverse actions, your employer might simply create a hostile work environment in response to your speaking out about wrongdoing. Your supervisors might make false allegations against you or just go out of your way to make you feel unwelcome at work.
You Have the Right to Seek Remedies for Injustice Without Fear of Retaliation
Federal and state anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who file discrimination complaints or request reasonable accommodations for a disability. If the employer does not grant your request for disability accommodations, this action does not automatically qualify as discrimination or retaliation. You and your employer might simply disagree about whether the accommodations you are requesting are reasonable, or your employer may genuinely be unable to make the accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides for a dispute resolution process in cases like this, and the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can provide you with legal counsel throughout the process.
In the case of qui tam actions, retaliation is almost guaranteed, or at least, the law is written the way it is in order to provide a financial safety net for whistleblowers whose employers terminate their employment in retaliation for filing the whistleblower complaint. If you file a qui tam action, and the government uses your complaint as the basis of a lawsuit against your employer, you are entitled to a share of the money that the court awards to the government. Qui tam actions are complex legal matters, and you will need to work closely with your legal team.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About Retaliation Against Employees Who Speak Up
It takes courage to file a formal complaint about discrimination and other forms of wrongdoing that you witness at your workplace, but the longer you stay silent, the more your employer can mistreat you and others. An employment lawyer can help you develop a strategy for speaking out against employment discrimination and protecting yourself from retaliation. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.