Philosophers of all nations and all time periods have noted that human beings have a tendency to be greedy, self-serving, and hostile toward each other, but people refrain from this sort of behavior out of a sense of professionalism. Employment laws exist to ensure professional conduct in the workplace, so that not every place of employment devolves into a dog-eat-dog workplace. Unfortunately, employers sometimes punish employees for doing the right thing; this is called workplace retaliation, and it is against the law. If you have witnessed your employer engaging in retaliation against employees who are exercising their rights or following the law, whether or not you are the target of the retaliation, contact the Indianapolis employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Retaliation is as Ugly as it Sounds
It is not pleasant to work in a place where your boss is constantly publicly shaming employees for minor mistakes and threatening them to fire them. It is bad enough to fear losing your job because you did something wrong, but if the terms of your employment contract or the guidelines in your employee handbook are clear enough, at least you know what you should be doing, and you can explain that you were following company policy to the best of your ability, even if you were not able to meet a specific goal that your boss set for you, despite your best efforts. What is even worse is when your employer takes adverse action against you because you did the right thing, such as exercising a right that federal or state law grants to all workers in Indiana or reporting wrongdoing or criminal activity that you witnessed at your workplace.
These are some adverse actions that employers can take against employees; if the employer does them in response to an employee doing something right, it is retaliation:
- Writing you up or subjecting you to increased scrutiny as a disciplinary measure
- Changing your work assignment against your wishes, so that the schedule, location, or duties are more burdensome than they were at your previous assignment
- Demoting you to a position with lower pay, less prestige, or less work-life balance
- Denying you a raise or promotion
- Giving you an unfairly negative performance review
- Refusing to provide a reference for your future job searches, or providing a negative reference
- Threatening to take away your immigration status or that of your spouse and children, if your employer has sponsored you for a work visa or green card
In order to have grounds for a retaliation complaint, you must show that your employer unjustly took one of these adverse actions against you and that you suffered financial losses as a result.
At-Will Employment and Employer Retaliation
You might think that it would be difficult to prove that your employer fired you in retaliation for taking a legally protected action, since Indiana is an at-will employment state. At-will employment means that the employee can quit at any time for any reason, and the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. (Just because Indiana allows at-will employment, it does not mean that all employees work on an at-will basis; if you have an employment contract that guarantees you a job until a certain date, your employer cannot fire you before that date, at least not without a good reason.) While your employer does not need a reason to fire you, there are some instances in which it is against the law for your employer to terminate your employment. Specifically, your employer cannot fire you as punishment for doing something that the law gives you the right to do; that would be retaliation.
Protected Actions Under Federal and State Law
You can demonstrate that your employer’s adverse action against you was in response to a legally protected action in which you engaged. Legally protected actions are things that federal and state employment laws grant all workers the right to do without fear of retaliation. These are some examples of legally protected actions:
- Demanding fair pay, including a base rate of pay of at least $7.25 per hour (the current minimum wage in Indiana) with overtime pay for every hour past the 40th worked in a single workweek
- Exercising your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), including taking an unpaid leave of absence from work for up to 12 weeks because of your own illness, the illness of a close family member, or the birth or adoption of a child
- Complaining about discrimination based on a protected characteristic (race, gender, religion, national origin, age, or disability) or participating in an investigation related to a discrimination complaint
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim about a work injury and disputing denied workers’ comp claims
- Reporting a safety violation to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
- Filing a qui tam action under the federal False Claims Act if the employer’s fraudulent business practices are causing financial losses to a federal entity
If your employer takes adverse action against you shortly after you engage in a protected activity, it is probably a case of workplace retaliation. In order to get the legal remedies you deserve, you must prove that the adverse action was because of your protected activity and not a coincidence. Your employer may try to argue that you complained, reported your employer, or quit because you were in danger of being fired anyway because of your own misconduct or poor performance. Your best defense is to do as well as possible at your job and to leave on good terms if you leave. Another way to protect yourself is to start working with an employment lawyer immediately after the retaliation begins, if not sooner.
Contact an Indiana Employment Lawyer About Employer Retaliation
An employment lawyer can help you seek justice if your employer retaliated against you after you engaged in a legally protected activity. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Indianapolis, Indiana to set up a consultation.