Stressed businesswoman at work dealing with workplace retaliation.

How to Identify Retaliation in the Workplace

If you engaged in a legally protected activity, like filing a complaint with the Human Resources (HR) department, and you receive negative consequences afterward, you might be the victim of workplace retaliation. Your boss does not have to admit that the adverse outcomes were retaliation. There must, however, be a causal link between the action your boss took against you and your legally protected activity. Retaliation cases can be challenging to prove.  A Washington employment attorney can help you determine whether you have legal claims for retaliation.  

Examples of Retaliation by Employers

Retaliation can take many forms. Your boss must take a materially adverse action against you that affects your job, income, or the terms and conditions of your employment. The following scenarios are indicative of retaliation:

  • Transfer – You might get transferred to a different department or to another location of the company in a different city.
  • Change in shift – Let’s say that all new employees have to work the night shift. After proving themselves and building seniority, a worker can move to the evening shift when there is an opening, and then on to the day shift. An evening or day shift worker who gets booted back to the night shift after engaging in a legally protected activity might be the victim of retaliation.
  • Negative employee evaluations – An employee had excellent annual performance reviews for many years. After filing a complaint with HR, the employee’s reviews plummeted.
  • Cut in pay – It could be retaliation if a worker who made, for example, $20 an hour before filing a complaint, got the pay rate reduced to $15 an hour.
  • Fewer work hours – This category could include either a full-time employee getting cut to part-time, a part-time worker getting a substantial decrease in the hours scheduled to work, or a person who regularly worked overtime before filing a complaint no longer getting approved for overtime.
  • Demoted to a lesser position – Demotion focuses on job title and job description and often involves a cut in pay, as well. For example, a lawyer who complained of sexual identity harassment at the law firm got reassigned to paralegal work.  
  • Furlough or lay-off – Some companies use any change in the economy to justify laying off or furloughing the employees who have filed complaints.
  • Fired – Some employers will fire a person who engages in legally protected activity, incorrectly thinking that a boss has a right to do that in an employment-at-will state.
  • Any other discipline or materially adverse action can be illegal retaliation. 

The courts will look at the timing of the legally protected activity and the adverse action against the employee. The closer in time these two events happen, the stronger the causal link. Even if an employer waits for a while to punish the worker, it can still be retaliatory if there is no other reason that justifies the employer’s action. If you believe that you have been retaliated against, you do not have to sort out these legal issues or take on your employer by yourself. Contact a Washington employment attorney today. We can help you evaluate your situation and take action.