The federal and state laws that protect employees against discrimination and harassment also prohibit workplace retaliation by an employer when an employee exercises their rights under those laws or participates in the processes that protect those rights. Workplace retaliation can take many different forms. Knowing examples of retaliation in the workplace can help spot it and protect yourself.
Generally, workplace retaliation includes any adverse decision or action by an employer taken because of an employee’s exercise of protected employment rights under federal and state laws. Most often, the protected rights involve laws prohibiting discrimination or harassment in the workplace. There also are common law protections against workplace retaliation that apply in specific situations, such as workers’ compensation and whistleblowing.
The primary federal statute under which retaliation claims arise is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other federal laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act, also contain retaliation prohibitions. The State of Kansas also has specific laws that prohibit workplace retaliation, including specific protections against wrongful termination.
Retaliation may occur against an employee who files a complaint, opposes an unlawful employment practice, testifies or assists in an employment rights proceeding, or otherwise asserts a statutory employment right in the work context. Job applicants, as well as current and former employees, can be subject to retaliation.
Workplace retaliation legal principles are extremely complex and apply in a wide range of employment situations. If you suspect that you are a victim of workplace retaliation as the result of exercising your protected rights, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to discuss the circumstances. Since numerous different laws may apply, the process for pursuing a retaliation claim varies depending on the situation.
While workplace retaliation covers a broad spectrum of conduct by employers, some types of retaliation occur more frequently than others. The most common kinds of retaliation include actions that affect the worker’s job and working conditions, such as:
If an employer takes any of these negative actions after an employee engages in a protected activity, and the employer took the action because of the employee’s conduct, it may constitute workplace retaliation.
A primary issue in a retaliation case often is demonstrating that the employer took the action because of the employee’s actions. Proving causation is frequently the most challenging part of a retaliation claim. In most cases, the employee’s lawyer will rely on circumstantial evidence to connect the adverse employment action to the employee’s exercise of protected rights.
Sometimes, examples of retaliation in the workplace involve conduct that makes an employee’s work environment unpleasant or more difficult. Repeated verbal abuse, increased scrutiny, threats, harassment, and similar actions may constitute retaliation in some circumstances, even if the conduct falls short of creating a hostile work environment.
The United States Supreme Court stated that any negative act toward an employee who engaged in protected conduct can constitute retaliation if the employer’s action would be enough to discourage a reasonable employee from making a complaint under similar circumstances. This standard reflects the underlying reason for prohibition of workplace retaliation, which is to ensure that employees remain free to exercise their employment rights without fear of retribution from the employer.
It's important to note that some employer actions may be perceived as retaliatory, when in fact they are based on a legitimate business purpose. If that is the case, and the action is unrelated to the employee’s exercise of protected rights, proving a case for workplace retaliation will be extremely difficult. The outcome for each case depends entirely on all the facts in the case, including all the circumstances relating to the employer’s and employee’s actions.
If you think your employer has taken prohibited retaliatory actions for your exercise of protected employment rights, you should talk with an employment law attorney. While you may be required to file a retaliation complaint with a federal or Kansas state government agency, a private attorney can investigate your claim, analyze the legal rights you have in the situation, and assist with taking necessary action.
Depending on the nature of your retaliation claim, you may be able to bring a civil action to receive job-related relief and recover financial compensation for the harm caused by the retaliation. The remedies in each case will depend entirely on the nature of the rights that are involved and the harm caused by the employer’s conduct.
From our offices in Topeka and Lawrence, the experienced employment attorneys at Sloan Law Firm assist clients throughout Kansas with violations of federal and state employment laws, including workplace retaliation claims. We invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.