What is workplace retaliation?

According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace retaliation continues to be the most frequently filed complaint in California and across the nation. Retaliation claims are often filed after workers experience other forms of discrimination.

Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination over age, disability, race, sex and gender, sexual orientation, harassment, pregnancy, religion, national origin and family responsibilities. It is also illegal for employers to take action against workers who assert their rights for these protected activities.

Most frequently filed charges

The most recent EEOC statistics from 2018 show retaliation claims lead employee complaints. The top five for that year were:

  • 51.6%: Retaliation
  • 32.3%: Sex
  • 32.2%: Disability
  • 32.2%: Race
  • 22.1%: Age

The agency also reports retaliation was the No. 1 charge in California in 2018, with 2,183 claims. The Golden State ranked sixth in total claims behind Texas, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Protected activities for workers

Retaliation takes many forms. Employees are protected when employers knowingly or unknowingly take illegal actions against workers who:

  • Witness or file an EEO complaint
  • Participate in an EEO investigation or lawsuit
  • Resist sexual advances, or protect others from harassment
  • Request accommodations for religious practices or disabilities
  • Ask employers or co-workers for salary information
  • Whistleblower activities, such as exposing illegal activity or unsafe work conditions

Examples of retaliation

Employers are not allowed to take action against workers in response to EEO complaints. However, it happens in many instances when employers:

  • Reprimand workers or give lower-than-deserved performance evaluations
  • Transfer the employee to a less desirable job
  • Engage in physical or verbal abuse
  • Make threats over immigration status or to contact police
  • Spread rumors or mistreat family members
  • Punish the worker by making their job more difficult

Making a retaliation claim

To be successful in their claim, workers must show that they were involved in a protected activity, that they suffered as a result of the employer’s adverse action and demonstrate that those two actions were related.

Workers who experience any form of discrimination, including retaliation, should contact an experienced employment attorney to protect their rights and seek the compensation they deserve when an employer’s conduct violates state and federal laws.

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