Retaliation for Reporting Harassment at Work

An employer who punishes an employee who reported sexual harassment in the workplace violates state and federal law and is liable for retaliation. Examples of retaliation include demotion, fewer working hours, segregation, or termination.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Sometimes, when employees speak up about harassment or discrimination, their employers choose to retaliate against them. In this article, we will discuss the important issue of employer retaliation, and what employees can do about it.

What is an example of retaliation in the workplace?

Angela Hoops works at a Ski Rental Shop “Blades” in Mammoth Lakes, California. Angela has worked in the ski industry for years, and she quickly emerges as the most knowledgeable and skilled worker in the shop. Shane, the head owner of Blades, honors Angela as “employee of the month” and tells her that she has a bright future at Blades.

After working there for a few months, Angela’s manager Rudy begins harassing her. The harassment begins slowly, with Rudy complimenting her on her looks and outfits, but grows more consistent and targeted. Angela was a model many years ago, and when Rudy finds this out his behavior grows even more crude. Angela goes from uncomfortable to emotionally distressed. She asks Rudy to stop but he simply laughs it off.

As the weeks go by, Rudy makes demeaning comments about Angela’s appearance and clothing and also encourages some of Angela’s co-workers to join in. While most of Angela’s co-workers joins in, a different worker named Bryan refuses to participate in the wrongful behavior.

Angela grows fed up and meets with the owner of Blades, Shane, a retired pro skier who she knows is good friends with Rudy. Angela tells Shane about Rudy’s comments, and Shane apologizes and says he will speak with Rudy. Angela tells Shane that Rudy’s comments are offensive and not permissible, and that she feels Rudy should be fired.

Shane apologizes and agrees that Rudy and Angela can no longer work together. Angela leaves the meeting feeling satisfied that Shane took her complaints seriously.

However, the following week, Angela reports to work and finds her name is not on the schedule for next week. When she asks Rudy about it, he shrugs. Angela calls Shane and he informs her that as of next week, she will no longer be working at Blades. When Angela asks for justification, Shane says that he simply did not feel she was right for the job.

What is Workplace Retaliation?

Workplace Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against a worker for engaging in protected activity. These adverse actions can include docking pay, firing the employee, reducing their hours, and more.

Angela’s protected activity was reporting Rudy’s sexual harassment to Shane. Shane’s retaliation occurred when he reduced Angela’s hours and then fired her, based on her description of Rudy’s harassment.

Therefore, Angela suffered retaliation from her employer for reporting harassment. In this case, the harassment was sexual in nature, but harassment and discrimination take on many forms in the workplace.

Employers have specific legal rights when faced with workplace retaliation. Workers can also explore specific remedies. Angela’s first instinct was the right one when confronted with Rudy’s demeaning behavior, but Shane was no help at all. Shane held Angela’s behavior against her, took her off the schedule, and then fired her in retaliation for her complaints.

In order to learn about her rights and explore possible remedies to the situation, Angela contacts a retaliation attorney. During their first consultation, the attorney helps Angela begin to figure out the best way forward for herself and her career.

What Forms Can Employer Retaliation Take?

Retaliation in the workplace can take many forms, including but not limited to:

  • Relocation
  • Firing
  • Demotion
  • Reduction of hours

Discrimination and harassment are defined as any behaviors that are illegal and unwelcome in the workplace. Often, when an employee brings up the discrimination or harassment they have suffered, they are met with retaliation by their employer. When this occurs, it is important that workers know how to contact an experienced employment lawyer, who will help them take the proper steps.

Angela was nervous about contacting an attorney. She felt as though she were up against a network of friends, including Rudy and Shane, who did not care about her feelings, her dignity, or her career. Luckily, Angela is a strong person, and she had a co-worker to speak to: her friend Bryan.

How Can Workers Tell If An Employer is Retaliating Against Them?

Rudy’s actions were clearly discriminatory, as were Shane’s. However, in some situations it can be more difficult to perceive if an employer’s behavior is retaliatory. Sometimes, only a slight change in a manager’s attitude, or a supervisor’s behavior, signals discrimination. Other times, employers’ comments or behavior are more subtle in nature but still damaging to the employee.

When workers report discrimination or harassment, and then their employers’ behavior becomes increasingly negative towards the worker, the employer may be retaliating. Harassment and discrimination take many forms in the workplace, so it is important for workers to be vigilant about the actions of their supervisors and managers.

Rudy’s comments angered Angela and impacted her work. Shane had a chance to remedy the situation but chose to side with his friend and ignore his negative actions. Instead, Shane chose to remove Angela from the situation.

Angela made the correct choice when she contacted a retaliation employment attorney. She may be able to collect damages for her missed work hours, as well as being fired. Although discrimination and harassment at work are difficult situations, employees should never be too scared or intimidated to report the truth about their employers. An experienced employment attorney can help protect and defend the rights of employees who suffer workplace retaliation.

What Should an Employee Do When They Suspect Retaliation?

When employees suspect that their employer is retaliating against them, one useful thing they can do is document the employer’s behavior. When Rudy harassed Angela, she wrote down his comments. When Shane fired her, Angela documented his behavior. That way, when Angela spoke to her lawyer, she was able to provide accurate descriptions of her manager Rudy’s behavior, as well as dated depictions of the shop owner’s retaliatory actions.

Speaking with an employment lawyer is an intelligent first step in defending and protecting worker rights. Cases of retaliation are both time sensitive and complicated, so it is important for workers to not waste any time. In Angela’s case, she did the right thing: first, she reported the behavior. However, after she was fired, she immediately contacted an attorney.

What Can Employees Receive From a Retaliation Settlement or Trial Victory?

Some employees are entitled to damages based on their retaliation case. These damages may be based on:

  • Lost wages
  • Emotional distress
  • Lost employment
  • Other documented losses

Angela’s lawyer was experienced with retaliation, and Angela was ultimately entitled to the pay that she lost, as well as damages due to emotional distress. Angela’s co-worker Bryan, the only man who did not participate in the harassment, provided Angela’s lawyer with valuable information documenting Randy’s and Shane’s behavior. Ultimately, Shane sold the business to Bryan, who fired Rudy and re-hired Angela. Currently, Angela and Bryan are running Blades and business is booming. They’ve hired several new employees and plan to continue to expand with Bryan as the owner and Angela as the manager.

The decision to report issues of harassment and discrimination is up to the employee. However, the law is on the side of the employee who suffers retaliation.

Contact Nakase Wade today if you are a victim of workplace harassment, discrimination, or resulting retaliation. Our employment lawyers have experience in protecting and defending workers’ rights, and we will earn you the settlement you deserve.

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