Fact: you won’t always get along with your coworkers or boss. Occasional friction at work is inevitable for many of us, but there are times when these disagreements can turn hostile — and unlawful. For one, you may find yourself in a position to do what is right by defending a coworker who is facing discrimination. Or, you may need to speak up about illegal activities that are occurring in your workplace. If one day you engage in these, or other protected activities, you could very well become a victim of workplace retaliation by your employer, or even your coworkers.
While some workplace retaliation tactics may seem obvious, there are other times when these behaviors are subtle. Therefore, it is crucial for all employees to understand the common signs and forms of workplace retaliation.
Common Forms of Retaliation in the Workplace
You are Excluded from Workplace Activities
Ostracizing an employee is one of the most common forms of retaliation, yet often overlooked. If your supervisor or manager leaves you out of work-related decisions, meetings, or other job-based activities that you should be involved in, this could constitute retaliation.
For example, you may decide to defend a team member who is being subjected to racial harassment by your boss. A few days later, you find yourself removed from your team’s monthly meeting invite. This could mean that your boss is unlawfully retaliating against you for going to bat for your coworker.
You are Verbally Abused by a Coworker
Many employees who file workplace retaliation claims say they are verbally abused by someone in a management position. But what you may not know is that a slew of retaliation claims also state that coworkers are to blame for retaliatory verbal abuse. If your employer does not adequately enforce a rule stating that verbal abuse will not be tolerated at the office, or if employees do not adhere to these anti-harassment policies, your employer could be held liable for retaliation.
Say you are a female presenting a new strategy to the rest of the marketing team. Afterward, a male coworker unfairly ridicules your work and makes comments about your gender. “This is why men should come up with the ideas!” The verbal abuse continues, eventually making working for the company unbearable. The abusive coworker is also a good friend of the manager you recently complained about to HR. In this situation, your company may be liable for the verbal abuse coming from your coworker.
Coworkers Act Like You Don’t Exist
If you decide to file a workplace discrimination or harassment complaint, it is important to keep this information to yourself. Many people who file retaliation claims say that they are given the “cold shoulder” by coworkers who are aware of the complaint.
For instance, perhaps you file a sexual harassment claim against your company CEO who is well-liked by practically everyone at work. At a weekly happy hour with your team members, you decide to divulge information about the claim to a coworker you do not know very well. Other coworkers hear about your harassment complaint through the grapevine and you are not invited to the weekly happy hour ever again. This situation may also amount to retaliation.
You are Subjected to Post-Employment Retaliation
If you decide to leave your job, you can still be subjected to retaliation by a former employer. Say you are applying for a new job and add your former supervisor’s name as a reference. Unbeknownst to you, this supervisor did not like you because of your complaints of your employer’s allegedly unlawful activity. If this person interferes with your attempt to acquire a new job by providing false or negative information to a prospective employer, or even refuses to provide a reference at all, this could constitute workplace retaliation.
You are Demoted, Denied a Promotion, or Fired
Exposing an employer for illegal business practices, requesting reasonable accommodation, or participating in employment-related legal proceedings (including whistleblowing), are all considered protected conduct under California and federal employment law. Unfortunately, employers still retaliate against employees for engaging in these legal activities. If your employer fires you, demotes you to a lesser role, denies you a promotion that is rightfully yours, or decreases your pay in response to these protected activities, this could be considered workplace retaliation.
If you feel you are a victim of retaliation at work, rest assured that California employment laws are in place to protect your employee rights. Contact our expert Los Angeles employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation so we can discuss your case.