• David Manes

Will I get fired if I report harassment in the workplace: the realities of retaliation

A huge barrier to workers bringing charges of employment discrimination is the fear of retaliation from their employers.

Real life scenarios of retaliation

Picture the following scenario: a young female worker graduates from college with significant student loan debt, a car payment, and rent. She finds her first job getting paid just enough to meet her debts. Now imagine her boss is sexually harassing her with inappropriate comments and touching. She wants to hire an attorney and take action to stop her boss from doing these things. But the problem is that she is scared to even file a complaint within the company. She fears, and reasonably so, that if she says anything she may lose her job, and therefore her livelihood.

Does the law protect from retaliation?

A single mother with three kids to feed may find herself in a similar position. Really, any worker who is experiencing harassment may not want to report it out of fear of losing their only source of income. Thankfully, there is a cause of action that protects workers against this and it is known as a retaliation charge.

The law

The retaliation charge exists under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and it allows for an employee to bring suit against an employer who takes an adverse action against them in retaliation for reporting unlawful and inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

How it works

So if you reported your boss or co-worker’s harassment, it is illegal for your boss to punish you in any way. This is true if you file a complaint in the companies internal reporting system, if you hire an attorney, or even if you give information in support of someone else’s case against the company. Your employer cannot fire you for reporting harassing conduct. They cannot demote you, they cannot cut your pay, they cannot give you the crappy assignments. If they do, an additional cause of action will arise against them and they may pay the price in court.

The reality

The reality of retaliation is that oftentimes the initial claims of harassment fail, but the worker still recovers on a retaliation charge. This is because retaliation is often easier to prove then the initial harassment claim. Any smart company with a competent lawyer will inform that employer to walk on eggshells around an employee who has brought a claim of harassment. The smart thing for the employer to do is to treat that employee just like they would every other worker.

However, sometimes employers do not heed sound legal advice and they end up retaliating against an employee. But remember, they will pay the price for this. That extra charge may compound the damages the company has to pay or end up being the only charge they have to pay. So if an employee does complain of harassment, they should take comfort in the fact that the law protects them from retaliation. As long as they also dot their I’s and cross their T’s at work, they will be protected if the employer takes adverse action against them.

Contact an attorney

For more information regarding your particular case, contact a local attorney in your area.

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