What Rights Do Employees Have Against Retaliation?


Multiple federal laws protect employees from harassment and discrimination. They also protect employees from retaliation. That means an employer can’t punish you for reporting discrimination, harassment, or illegal activity, such as fraud.

Retaliation doesn’t only involve terminating an employee. It can also include demoting someone to a lower-paying position or transferring them to an undesirable department. As a federal employee, you have various rights you should know to protect yourself.

Below is an overview of federal anti-retaliation laws and how to pursue legal action against an employer for retaliating against you.

Understanding Employer Retaliation

Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee who participates in a protected activity.

An adverse action involves any action that would deter a reasonable employee from reporting an employer’s violation of federal or state law, such as a wage and hour violation or fraud.

Retaliation doesn’t only include adverse action by an employer. They can retaliate against employees through a supervisor, manager, or administrator.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits an employer from punishing an employee or job applicant for asserting their rights to participate in protected activity, such as:

  • Answering questions about alleged harassment during an investigation into the employer
  • Being a witness in or filing a complaint, charge, lawsuit, or investigation with the EEOC
  • Asking coworkers or managers about salary information to determine whether there are discriminatory wages
  • Refusing to follow an order that would lead to discrimination
  • Communicating with a manager or supervisor about employment discrimination, including harassment
  • Requesting accommodations for a religious practice or disability
  • Resisting an employer’s sexual advances or intervening to protect someone else

Federal law protects an employee from retaliation under all circumstances involving a complaint process. Other actions against discrimination are protected if the employee reasonably believes that the reported behavior violates equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws.

EEO activity doesn’t protect an employee from all discharge or discipline. Employers can punish their workers if motivated by non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons. However, an employer can’t respond to the EEO activity in a way that would discourage another person from complaining about or resisting future discrimination.

It might be retaliation under specific circumstances if an employer responds to an employee’s EEO activity by:

  • Engaging in physical or verbal abuse
  • Making the employee’s job more difficult, such as changing their schedule to conflict with known family obligations or religious practices
  • Increasing scrutiny
  • Giving an undeserved poor performance evaluation or reprimanding the employee
  • Spreading false rumors
  • Threatening to file or filing a report with law enforcement
  • Transferring the employee to a less desirable position

Retaliation Protection for Whistleblowers

If an employee reasonably believes their employer violated federal securities laws, they can file a complaint with the EOCC. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report misconduct to the Commission. Retaliation includes suspending, discharging, harassing, demoting, or discriminating against a whistleblower in any way in the conditions and terms of employment.

The act also allows whistleblowers to file a retaliation complaint in federal court. That means you can sue your employer if they retaliated against you for reporting a possible securities law violation for:

  • Reasonable attorneys’ fees
  • Back pay with interest
  • Reinstatement
  • Reimbursement of certain costs related to litigation

Speak to an Experienced Federal Employment Lawyer Today

Getting fired or punished unfairly for speaking up about employer misconduct is devastating. However, options are available to hold your employer liable and recover compensation for your losses.

At The Vaugh Law Firm, we fight for the rights of Decatur, GA, and Washington, DC, workers mistreated by their employers. Call us at 877-615-9495 for a confidential consultation now if your employer retaliated against you.