Federal and state law does not allow employers to retaliate against or terminate employees based on unlawful grounds. Workplace retaliation occurs when an employer unfairly penalizes an employee for partaking in an activity that is legally protected. For instance, your boss cannot retaliate against you for engaging in an investigation for employer misconduct, reporting employer misconduct, refusing to do something that is against the law, blowing the whistle on illegal activity, requesting reasonable accommodation, serving in the armed forces reserves, or contacting an employment lawyer about a workplace concern.
As an employment litigation lawyer from Eric Siegel Law explains, your employer is not permitted to retaliate against you based on protected characteristics. What this means is that your employer cannot treat you in a negative way because of your religion, race, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristic. Some incidents of retaliation are going to be blatantly obvious, but in other cases, an employer may carry it out in a subtle way. Regardless, employers may go to great lengths to hide their retaliatory behavior. So if you observe that your boss seems to be treating you for the worse after participating in a protected activity, you must be wary of retaliation.
An example of subtle workplace retaliation would be a colleague, supervisor, or employer that ignores you after you have filed a complaint. The silent treatment may be purposefully used to make the employee feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Perhaps a supervisor had talked badly about you to coworkers, or your boss has decided to keep you out of meetings and training so you feel isolated. The silent treatment can take on other forms as well, such as colleagues who used to have lunch with an employee suddenly seem too busy to hang out with them, or an employee hears that there was a networking event but they weren’t invited.
Another example of a subtle form of retaliation is an unusual schedule change or reduced working hours. Companies that operate in shifts may mix up the schedule once in a while just to give everyone something different here and there. Sometimes a reassignment may make sense, as some shifts may be more tiresome or inconvenient. Mere reassignment or schedule changes may not mean it is retaliatory. However, an employee should be suspicious if they all of a sudden get the worst and least desirable shifts after filing a complaint about the company.
An employer may also retaliate by reducing how many hours an employee gets, as a way to affect how much money they make and to cause further hardship for them. Maybe you are only working for the company part-time and the job description doesn’t necessitate that you have a set amount of hours. But if you have been given a certain amount of hours consistently and then out of nowhere get your hours cut drastically after filing a company complaint, then this may point to retaliation.