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What counts as 'retaliation' in the workplace?

In order to keep workplaces fair and comfortable for all employees, employers are required to comply with standards set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

This means they are not allowed to treat employees unfairly or deny them opportunities based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability status or various other protected factors. Employees should also be free from harassment that creates a hostile work environment.

Furthermore, it is illegal for an employer to fire or block the advancement of employees who choose to stand up for themselves or their coworkers.

Nevertheless, this happens frequently. Many times the reason for termination is listed as some other infraction. Since there is no such thing as a perfect employee, employers get away with listing some other reason, known as a pretext, to explain why they let an employee go.

Fighting Pretext

Pretext is the official "reason" that is given when an employer wants to terminate employment illegally. Often, this occurs because they want to get away with bending industry rules or discriminating against an employee who should be protected under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.

For example, an employer may cite a dress code violation as a reason for firing a woman who doesn't tolerate sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace. If the dress code has not been consistently enforced, chances are this is not the real reason why she was fired.

An experienced attorney is often able to get past employers who deny allegations and hide behind company policy in an attempt to discourage employees from pursuing legal action. In pursuing these cases, attorneys look at whether there is:

  • An adverse action
  • A covered individual
  • A protected activity

What Is An Adverse Action?

Adverse actions may include termination, refusal to hire, denying a promotion, giving negative evaluations, or threatening civil or criminal charge. This is all intended to discourage a person from pursuing his or her rights or standing up for another's rights.

Who Is A Covered Individual?

A covered individual is anyone who has opposed the unlawful business practices of an employer, especially if he or she has participated in legal action or has been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, age, sex, disability or national origin.

What Is A Protected Activity?

Protected activities include a variety of behaviors that attempt to assert the employee's right to a fair and safe workplace. Some protected activities include complaining about workplace discrimination, threatening to report discrimination, not complying with a request that is based on discrimination, or picketing in protest of a company's discriminatory policies.

You Have The Right To Get Legal Help

If you believe you are being retaliated against by an employer or former employer, it is best to consult with an attorney sooner rather than later in order to get the best protection possible against workplace retaliation.

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