Many people ignore wrongdoing in the workplace. They may ignore a co-worker who makes inappropriate comments. They may even fail to report a safety hazard because everyone else accepts that it is just how things are. Reporting violations, safety concerns, illegal activity, and harassment should be appreciated. It helps to create a better work environment for everyone involved. Unfortunately, many employers instead retaliate against an employee who reports workplace concerns.
According to a report from National Public Radio (NPR), workplace retaliation claims now exceed the number of racial discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Retaliation claims now account for almost 45% of EEOC complaints, up from only about 23% of complaints back in 1997. In 2015, the EEOC reported almost 40,000 retaliation complaints.
Retaliation includes demotion, harassment, or firing an individual for filing a complaint of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. According to the EEOC, allowing employers to retaliate against employees for these actions would have a chilling effect on people's willingness to speak out against illegal discrimination.
There are three elements of a retaliation claim, including (1) protected activity, including participation in an EEO process or opposition to discrimination; (2) materially adverse action taken by an employer; and (3) a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action. Some retaliation cases can be difficult to identify because employers try to hide the fact that the adverse action is due to the employee's opposition to discrimination in the workplace.
Most retaliation is committed by managers or supervisors. However, retaliation can also involve bullying by coworkers. Many employees are retaliated against and are not even aware. Assistant legal counsel for the EEOC, Carol Miaskoff, says retaliation can involve a demotion, bad evaluation, or undesirable work assignment. This can act to mask the retaliation as a legitimate employment decision.
“Sometimes people can be really creative about how they retaliate,” says Miaskoff, “because the goal is to not seem like you're retaliating.”
Many people who face bullying or retaliation cannot leave their jobs for economic reasons. Instead, they are forced to put up with continued abuse, retaliation, and harassment. According to Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, “they escalate their campaigns of persecution because they cannot state being exposed.”
The EEOC has recently released anti-retaliation guidance to put employers on notice of the growing problem of retaliation complaints. The guidance includes: “the scope of employee activity protected by the law; legal analysis to be used to determine if evidence supports a claim of retaliation; remedies available for retaliation; rules against interference with the exercise of rights under the ADA; and detailed examples of employer actions that may constitute retaliation.”
If you have been retaliated against for speaking out at work, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois employment law. No one deserves to be retaliated against for doing the right thing. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.