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Dealing with workplace retaliation

For many employees thinking about reporting employment discrimination, potential retaliation by an employer is a serious concern. Employees fear that complaining will result in worse treatment and even job loss. However, just as state and federal laws forbid discrimination, they also prohibit employers from retaliating. This may not stop a particular employer from breaking the law, but it does mean you have legal recourse against such conduct.

Types of retaliation

If you have filed an EEOC complaint or a lawsuit alleging unlawful employment discrimination, be on the lookout for signs that your employer is taking action against you. Most employers will not straightforwardly tell you that you are going to be punished for filing a complaint. Take note of early warning signs of changing attitudes, as it is important to document as much as you can.

While extreme cases of retaliation can take the form of summary firing, most employers will use more subtle methods. You may find yourself demoted, denied a bonus or opportunity for promotion, or moved to inferior working conditions. Other signs can include increased hostility in the environment, which can be expressed with verbal harassment or refusal to work constructively with you. Many workplaces also have a few regulations - dress code is a common one - that do not tend to be strictly enforced. Sudden by-the-book strictness in your case is also a warning sign that your complaint is not being taken well.

How to fight retaliation

It is important to document any of these signs, even if at first they do not appear to be serious. Employers will rarely admit they acted adversely to you because you complained about them. Instead, they may try to justify their conduct by criticizing your performance. For this reason, they may begin writing you up or issuing formal reprimands for infractions that do not usually have such consequences. They may try to get you to sign documents admitting to exaggerated or distorted versions of what actually happened. Do not agree to sign an account that is not completely true.

You need to have your own clear timeline and account of what actually happened to show you were a victim of retaliation. Know who witnessed any incidents and would be able to support your account. Factors to keep in mind include previous positive assessment of your performance; positive feedback from co-workers, clients or customers; and disparate handling of similar issues when it comes to co-workers who have not filed complaints.

Retaliation complaints are becoming increasingly common. If you have concerns about potential or ongoing retaliation from your employer, your best option is to consult a knowledgeable employment law attorney. An experienced discrimination litigator can put together a strong strategy to protect your rights.

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