The US Department of labor legally defines workplace retaliation as an action that occurs when “an employer…takes any other type of adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity.” Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell whether you’re a victim of workplace retaliation or if emotions cloud your judgment. Read on to learn how to tell if you’re a victim of workplace retaliation so that you can decide which steps to take going forward.
Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in a protected act, but what constitutes a protected act? Protected acts are activities that workers should be able to engage in without fear of retaliation from management, supervisors, and or employers. These acts include but are not limited to refusing to participate in illegal acts, reporting harassment, filing for workers’ compensation, whistleblowing, filing a claim with the EEOC, and more.
An employer might retaliate against an employee for engaging in these protected acts for many reasons. These actions may hurt the reputation of the employer or the company, cost them money, or lead to any number of negative outcomes. It may sound harsh, but it is not your responsibility to worry about these consequences when you’re engaging in activities that are within your legal rights.
Due to the imbalance of power between employer and employee, it’s easy for employers to gaslight, coerce, or confuse employees regarding the retaliatory acts the employer takes. If you’re uncertain, there are three easy questions you can ask yourself to determine the truth.
It may sound frightening, but it is in your best interest to ask your employer why they took the action that they did and receive their reasoning in writing. You should do the same with other supervisors or management that are involved in the process. If their explanations don’t make sense or are not consistent with one another, these issues can be a significant red flag.
How close in timing did the suspected retaliation occur in relation to the protected act? If you notice the timing is close, perhaps within a few days or weeks, it could indicate that your employer is retaliating against your actions. Generally, the closer in time the two events occur, the more likely it is that retaliation is the culprit.
Any sudden shift in treatment, behavior, or attitude toward you is worth noting, especially if it feels out of place, disproportionate, or undeserved. Additionally, observe other employees and see if they are receiving similar treatment without having taken similar actions. If you’re seemingly the only one experiencing these issues, it’s likely not a coincidence.
As you continue through this article and look through the signs of workplace retaliation, keep these three questions in mind.
If you no longer receive the same number of emails, assignments, or training opportunities that you once had, employers may be trying to isolate you. In severe cases, this isolation can present as “silent treatment” from employers and other higher-ups. If an employer bad-mouths you to other colleagues, they may also ignore and or avoid you. Sometimes, retaliation isn’t just to punish you—it’s to make you hate the environment so much that you quit of your own volition.
If you receive a demotion for seemingly no reason or have a sudden influx of difficult jobs, start paying attention and taking note of these occurrences. Reassignment can also present itself as unfavorable shift changes, especially if other employees can choose their shifts and you can’t. Remember, it’s not uncommon for relating employers to make conditions unbearable for you to work in. They take steps to impact your performance and give them a “better reason” to fire you.
Poor reviews can seriously harm a person’s career, and if they’re undeserved, overly cruel, harsh, or excessive, you may want to talk with your employer and ask why you received said comments. While even honest reviews can be hurtful at times, an employer should never make you feel incompetent or spoken down to. Take a look at your productivity, timeliness, and professionalism, and ask yourself if your metrics are what changed. If your performance is still reasonable, yet you feel inundated with negative reviews, you may have a bigger issue on your hands.
Has your employer suddenly reduced the number of hours you work, affecting your pay as a result? Have you received fewer sick days or less PTO while your colleagues’ benefits and hours remain the same? Workplace retaliation may be to blame. This kind of retaliation can have serious effects on a person’s work-life balance and overall income, so be sure to ask other employees if they’re experiencing the same issues.
Employees who consistently produce quality work should have a chance for a promotion or raise. If you seemingly can’t get ahead despite doing well, if not better than others, take some time to speak with your employer. They may be able to provide you with a good reason and steps to help you get that promotion or raise you’ve been seeking. If they can’t give you a clear answer or refuse to assist, don’t let this go unnoticed or unchecked.
Often, the most egregious and glaring forms of workplace harassment happen when things go from petty behavior to outright bullying, physical harassment, or sexual harassment. Pranks, sexual requests or jokes, threats, violence, and insensitive jokes or comments are not appropriate in any professional space under any circumstances. It is an employer’s job to provide you with a safe workspace, and if they are the purveyor of this bullying or do nothing to stop it, it is in direct violation of their duty as an employer. Do not let them make you feel that your pain, discomfort, or fear is part of the job or simply “locker room talk.” It is always inappropriate, and you should treat it as such.
Now that you know how to tell if you’re a victim of workplace retaliation, you can better determine if that is the case in your situation. If so, what comes next? If you believe that your employer has unfairly punished you for engaging in protected acts, it’s time to contact a hostile workplace lawyer. Contact The Law Firm of Tamara N. Holder today so that we can provide you with the legal consult and representation you deserve.