If you feel that you have experienced discrimination or harassment at work and you decide to make a complaint about it to your employer, you are likely concerned about the risk of retaliation. Understanding what constitutes unlawful retaliation is important, but having some idea of what to do after you file your complaint, is equally important. If you follow these tips you will put yourself in a better position to handle any retaliatory actions your employer may take.
What it means to suffer unlawful retaliation
When you bring a claim of unlawful retaliation to court, there are several facts that must be proven before you can recover. First, you must establish that you engaged in protected activity such as making a complaint of employment discrimination or harassment. You must also show that you suffered an adverse employment action and that the adverse action was causally related to your protected activity. For example, if you complain to Human Resources that you were sexually harassed by a supervisor and then you were demoted by the same supervisor a week after he found out about your complaint, then there may be a basis for a retaliation claim.
Complaints and punishment
There are two additional things you should know about workplace complaints and retaliation. Not all complaints are protected and not every type of punishment is actionable. A common misconception among the workforce is that any complaint they make about their jobs constitutes a protected complaint. In reality, only a specific complaint that relates to illegal discrimination or harassment will be protected. General harassment or unfair treatment is not sufficient because the law protects those who belong to certain categories based on race, gender, age, religion, or disability for example.
The same is true for actions by your employer that you may perceive as punishment. In most cases, the punishment would be demotion, termination, disciplinary actions, reduction in salary, or reassignment. Since retaliation can also be subtler, it is a good idea to discuss your situation with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.
Make sure the basis of your complaint is clear
If you have reached the point of submitting a complaint of harassment or discrimination at work, it is important to be clear and confident. Otherwise, your employer might claim it did not know what you were actually complaining about. In other words, don’t be shy about saying you feel it was discrimination based on your race or gender, for example. Use those terms when you make your complaint and be clear. It is also a good idea to be very specific about what happened, including names, dates, and comments.
Put your complaint in writing
It is very important to make your complaint in writing and keep your own copy. This is true even if you make the initial complaint verbally. You can follow up with a written copy. Keep an exact copy just in case the copy you give to your employer is “lost.” Email is probably the best way to do this because it creates a record of what you said, who you said it to and when the complaint was made. Also, do not wait to submit your formal complaint because there are deadlines for bringing legal claims and for making complaints about your employer’s conduct. Ultimately, if you wait too long to submit your complaint you could lose your right to file a court claim.
Be sure to present your claim to the right person
It is also important to present your complaint to the right person, otherwise, your employer may claim it did not actually receive the complaint. If you work for a large company, you most likely received an employee handbook that will specify who should receive workplace complaints. Remember that you do not have to complain to your supervisor if that is the person you believe discriminated or harassed you, even if that person was merely involved in some way. In most cases, there is someone else in HR or higher up in the company that you can complain to.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!