What Is Unlawful Employer Retaliation?

Employers retaliate against their employees for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways. Some of those reasons, while often unfair and contemptible, are perfectly legal. While others constitute violations of the law. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two.

To constitute unlawful retaliation, an employer’s negative employment action must generally be punishment for the employee having engaged in protected conduct. There are numerous statutes, state and federal, which govern unlawful employment practices by an employer. Many of those statutes also provide that certain employee conduct related to that unlawful practice is protected from retaliation.

For example, the law allows employees, without fear of retaliation, to take various actions in opposition to discrimination, wage/overtime violations, and unsafe work conditions. Certain types of medical leave also provide employees with protection from retaliation or interference with the exercise of their rights. The nature of the protected conduct depends upon the law which provides for protection from retaliation, but it can cover complaints to regulatory bodies, internal complaints, and even statements in support of other employees’ rights. In addition, and even in the absence of a specific employment-related statute, Rhode Island law protects so-called whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are employees who have taken certain actions, or refused to take certain actions, in connection with something unlawful an employer has done or wants the employee to do.

In contrast, employers are generally free to retaliate against employees who have raised mismanagement, incompetence, or violations of employer policies so long as the employer did not break the law. Other common types of unprotected actions are complaints about personality issues, certain forms of workplace bullying, and annoying or even troubling workplace practices.

The law does not provide a remedy for most retaliatory conduct by an employer. Basically, and unfortunately, the law provides that the remedy for lawful retaliation is for the employee to find a new job. If the employer continues to retaliate when an employee raises issues with management, it will lose good and concerned employees and will find it difficult to attract talented people. After all, who wants to work for an employer who punishes its employees for raising legitimate issues.

If you have complained about an illegality, assisted someone else in enforcing their legal rights, taken protected medical or family leave, or refused to engage in conduct you believed to be illegal, and your employer terminated, demoted, or otherwise retaliated against you, contact Enright Law. We will discuss the conduct you engaged in and your employer’s response to determine whether you have been the victim of unlawful retaliation.