When you hear the word “retaliation,” you probably think of abusive spouses, vengeful ex-girlfriends, or schoolyard prank wars that escalate throughout the academic year. You probably think that retaliation does not belong in a professional context, and indeed it does not, but it still happens in many workplaces across the country and even right here in the District of Columbia. Retaliation in the workplace is just as ugly as it is in personal relationships, and if unchecked, it can cost you your professional reputation and all the income potential that goes along with it. If you are considering engaging in a protected action that may leave you vulnerable to retaliation by your employer, or if you have already experienced retaliation, contact the Washington, D.C. employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
When Employers Punish Employees for Doing the Right Thing
Employers might take adverse actions against employees for any of a wide variety of reasons. If the reasons are unjustified, it might be a case of retaliation, but not always. If your employer unjustly takes adverse action against you, then what sort of legal action you should take depends on what kind of harm your employer caused you and your employer’s motivations for their actions. These are some common types of adverse actions in the workplace:
- Reassigning an employee to a different task or changing their work schedule when the employee did not request such a change and when it creates an inconvenience for the employee
- Reducing the employee’s pay or demoting them to a less prestigious position
- Subjecting the employee to added scrutiny either unofficially or as part of a disciplinary action such as putting the employee on probation
- Denying the employee’s application for a promotion
- Not giving the employee a raise when the employee becomes eligible for one
- A negative performance review, especially when the negative comments are trivial or untrue
- Termination of employment
- Providing a negative reference in the employee’s future job searches or refusing to provide a reference at all
When these adverse actions happen in response to an employee exercising their rights and engaging in a legally protected action, it is workplace retaliation. Retaliation does not have to take the form of a specific adverse action, though. It can also manifest itself as a hostile work environment in which work supervisors make derogatory comments and threaten to terminate the employee’s job, tarnish their professional reputation, or even take away their work visa or green card and thereby jeopardize the immigration status of the employee’s spouse and children. Workplace retaliation is very common; more than half of the discrimination complaints that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives involve retaliation.
You Have the Right to Complain About Unfair Treatment and to Report Wrongdoing
Simply put, workplace retaliation is when your employer punishes you for doing the right thing. If the law says that you should do something, and your employer takes adverse action against you when you do it, it is retaliation. Protected actions are things that workers in the District of Columbia have the right to do without fear of retaliation. These are some examples of protected actions:
- Demanding to be paid fair compensation for your work, which in the District of Columbia means at least $15.20 per hour for non-tipped employees and $5.05 per hour for tipped employees
- Demanding overtime pay for every hour beyond the 40th that you work for your employer in a given work week
- Taking an unpaid leave of absence pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies in the case of the employee’s illness, the illness of a close family member of the employee, or the birth or adoption of the employee’s child
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim about a work injury or an occupational disease
- Reporting a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
- Filing a complaint about discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
- Filing a qui tam action pursuant to the federal False Claims Act
- Participating in an investigation into a discrimination complaint against the employer
How a Washington, D.C. Workplace Retaliation Lawyer Can Help You
By definition, workplace retaliation involves your employer acting unjustly and breaking the rules, but fighting fire with fire is not the solution to workplace retaliation. To whatever extent you can, you should just continue doing your job as usual, while documenting everything unfair or hostile your employer has ever said or done to you. Meanwhile, you should also work closely with the Washington, D.C. employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP, who will advise you on the next legal steps you should take.
If the retaliation is in response for you complaining to human resources about racial or gender discrimination or simply speaking up verbally about it, or in response to your request for reasonable accommodation for a disability, then the next step is to contact the EEOC and submit a preliminary notice of complaint. The deadline for doing this is quite short, just a few weeks after you became aware of the retaliation, so you and your employment discrimination lawyer must work quickly to prepare the notice. After the EEOC receives the notice, it will conduct a formal investigation into discrimination and retaliation at your workplace. If the EEOC determines that the retaliation you experienced warrants a lawsuit, it will formally grant you permission to sue; the court will reject a workplace retaliation lawsuit that does not include a statement from the EEOC saying that your complaint has merit. Once your case reaches the court, you will need to show that you suffered financial losses because of your employer’s adverse action against you and that the adverse action genuinely counts as retaliation.
Contact a Washington, D.C. Employment Lawyer About Employer Retaliation
An employment lawyer can help you get justice if your employer has retaliated against you for engaging in a protected action. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Washington, D.C. to set up a consultation.