It is courageous to report harassment and to challenge illegal employment actions based on biases and stereotypes. Everyone knows speaking up can be risky. Many people don’t know, however, that the law offers broad protections for individuals who invoke their right to be free from discrimination in the workplace or who help others who choose to file a complaint. Whether you participate in the complaint process or you oppose something you think is discriminatory, your employer is not allowed to retaliate.
There are many ways you can voice your opposition to something you feel is a violation of the anti-discrimination laws. You might complain to your manager that a co-worker is surfing inappropriate websites at work. Maybe you speak up at an all-hands meeting, asking why people of color have not been selected for managerial positions. Perhaps you tell a colleague that you don’t appreciate their crude jokes. Each of these actions is protected and the law prohibits reprisal.
To be illegal, reprisal doesn’t have to result in a tangible employment action, like a demotion or a termination. It can be more nuanced, such as a threat to take a personnel action or taking away job duties.
If you engage in activity to “oppose” discrimination, you are engaging in protected activity. If your employer punishes or threatens you for it, you can file a reprisal claim. To prove your case, you have to show that:
- The employer or manager knew about your protected activity.
- A connection exists between your protected activity and the retaliation. The easiest way to prove a connection is to show that the retaliation followed swiftly after the employer learned about your protected activity.
- You exercised your right to oppose in a reasonable manner.
- Your opposition was based on a good faith belief that the conduct was discriminatory.
You are protected (Note: all that is required is a good faith belief that the conduct is discriminatory – it is not necessary for the conduct to actually be found to constitute discrimination in order for you to be protected from reprisal).
If you think that you’re a victim of illegal reprisal, contact us to learn more about your rights.
There are also laws that protect employees from reprisal for engaging in other types of activities, such as disclosing illegal practices, violations of the law, or gross mismanagement. For more information, please see our section on whistleblower reprisal.