Many employees are hesitant to complain about their employers in fear of retaliation, but employees that the law provides employees with specific protections from being retaliated against.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who helps regulate employment law in the United States, has outlined the details of what qualifies as retaliation and what does not.
Filing a Charge with the EEOC
Generally, every place of employment has their own guidelines as to how to address employment issues. If an employee feels that they are being subjected to some sort of wrongful treatment in the workplace, it is best that they follow the guidelines set forth by the employer first. Some employers instruct their employees to file a complaint with the employers human resources department or a specific designated employee within the company.
Once an employee has followed their proper procedures within the company, they can also file a complaint with the EEOC. Nonetheless, an employee should be aware of the time constraints for filing a charge. Generally, federal law provides an employee 180 days from the last discriminatory instance to file a charge with the EEOC. Nonetheless, the deadlines may also vary from state to state.
Handling Relations at Work After Filing an EEOC Charge
The EEOC states that, “The EEO laws prohibit punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment.” (See: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/retaliation.cfm). In terms of federal law, retaliation in prohibited in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and enforced by the EEOC. The EEOC goes on to list examples of when it is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees for:
- Filing or being a witness in an EEO charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit
- Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment
- Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment
- Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination
- Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others
- Requesting accommodations of a disability or for a religious practice
- Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages.
An employer cannot fire, demote, harass or make an employment decisions in regarding an employee or applicant because that person filed a charge with a government agency, participated in a discrimination proceeding or filed a complaint or grievance about discrimination ay their job.
Establishing a Retaliation Claim
Generally, the primary basis of any retaliation claim must be that some form of discrimination has taken place. When filing a retaliation claim, an employee is generally trying to show that they were retaliated against for their reaction to previous discrimination. To establish a retaliation claim, the employee must be able to show that they engaged in some sort of protected activity, such as complaining or participating in an investigation against the employer.
Second, the employee must be able to show that they were subjected to some sort of adverse employment action as result of engaging in that protected activity. The most common forms of adverse actions are termination, harassment or a demotion. In some situations, the adverse action will be taken against a third party who happens to be close to the employee who engaged in the protected activity. For example, if you and your brother work together and your brother is terminated shortly after you provided testimony in harassment claim against your employer, you or your brother may have a claim for retaliation.
Lastly, an employee must able to show that there is a causal link between the protected activity they engaged in and the adverse action taken by their employer. Generally, proof of this causal link comes in the form of circumstantial evidence. This requires the showing of a close temporal proximity between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. An example of circumstantial evidence would be an employee who is able to show that they had positive reviews throughout their career and they were terminated three days after participating in an investigation against their employer.
If you feel as though you are being retaliated against by your employer, you should contact an attorney who has experience in labor and employment law. The laws governing retaliation are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice. Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.