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When is employer retaliation unlawful?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has laws that state that it is not permissible for employers to punish job applicants or employees for certain reasons. These reasons can include discrimination and harassment against an applicant or employee.

This blog will provide a brief overview on what situations constitute unlawful employee retaliation, and how to know if you should make a claim.

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate toward employees or job applicants because they did the following:

  • Refusing to conduct work tasks that would have lead to discrimination
  • Not consenting to sexual advances, or not complying with sexual harassment attempts
  • Filing a complaint, investigation or lawsuit
  • Asking other people in the company about their wage so that you know whether pay is equal
  • Complying with an investigation about sexual harassment

In addition to these guidelines, there is one behavior that is absolutely prohibited from employer retaliation. This is when an employee files a complaint. In this case, under no circumstances is employer allowed to retaliate in response.

However, just because an employee cannot retaliate against or fire an employee because of the already stated circumstances, it does not mean that an employer cannot fire an employee for other reasons. An employee can be fired for relatively minor factors as long as the employer is not being discriminatory or retaliating in any way. These factors could be low work performance or low dependability. An employee could also be lawfully fired through their actions that resulted in creating a hostile environment in the workplace -- for example, through workplace bullying.

Source: EEOC, "Facts About Retaliation," accessed Aug. 31, 2017

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