I had a call from a guy tonight – we’ll call him Dan – who wanted to know what to do about supervisors that seemed to be micromanaging him after he made a formal complaint of age discrimination. The formal complaint was filed a few months ago. Since then, Dan has been scrutinized like he’s never been watched before. He’s the target of taunts and insults from managers. He’s not getting the help he used to get from coworkers. The supervisors don’t help anymore, either. It wasn’t like this before he filed the complaint. Now he feels isolated from his coworkers, and a target for his bosses. He wonders what’s next.
This behavior toward him is an unlawful form of retaliation, under state and federal law. All the major civil rights laws – the ones that prohibit discrimination and harassment – contain additional language barring employers from lashing out at, or punishing, employees who have complained of violations of those laws. This includes the laws protecting you and I from unfair treatment based on race, gender, disability, national origin, age, religion, ethnicity and color. The laws also protect you when you seek leave for a serious health condition (your own, or that of a family member), when you suffer an on the job injury, or when you blow the whistle. The anti-retaliation laws also protect you against retaliation in the future, even after you leave the workplace where you made the complaint. For example, your old employer cannot purposely give you false and derogatory job references, to harm your future job prospects. And, believe it or not, a current employer cannot punish you for having filed a claim against a prior employer. That’s also illegal. But it sometimes happens, because some employers think that if you’ve sued a prior employer, you are more likely to go after them.
Fortunately, retaliation like this isn’t common. Most employers will work to eliminate discrimination, and will treat you fairly when you complain of discrimination or harassment. It’s the other few that spoil it.
Have you complained of illegal discrimination or harassment based on a protected class (e.g., race, gender, age, etc.), or of harassment following time off from work for accident or illness, and then felt like the employer started retaliating against you for speaking out? If so, tell me about it. What kind of discrimination did you complain about, and how your employer retaliate against you? (Remember: never post anything revealing your real name, the name of your employer, or the names of anyone involve. Use made-up names, and describe your employer in generic terms, like “clothing store” or “restaurant).