10 Signs of Retaliation in the Workplace and How to Prove It

Employment law is complex and often seems contradictory because Connecticut is an at-will employment state. That means that an employer can fire a worker for any reason or no reason at all unless the termination violates some other law. Connecticut workers are protected by federal and state laws from many forms of employer retaliation when an employee exercises their legal rights to complain about violations of laws and regulations, as well as discrimination, serious wrongdoing, and threats to public health safety.

On the federal side, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the authority to investigate and pursue civil claims on behalf of a wronged employee under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Connecticut state laws also protect against retaliation and discrimination and encourage whistleblowing.

No one should suffer from loss of their employment because of exercising a legally protected right. Workplace retaliation is real and, in recent years, has accounted for about 60% of all discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC.

If you are experiencing retaliation at the workplace, consider calling Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC today to speak with seasoned workplace retaliation lawyers.

What Is Workplace Retaliation?

Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee for advocating for their rights to be free from employment discrimination, a discriminatory workplace culture, violations of laws intended to protect health and safety, and acting as a whistleblower. An array of federal and state laws are available to protect your rights when facing retaliation.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964: this federal law, administered by the EEOC, prohibits employers from penalizing job applicants or employees from asserting their rights to be free from discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual orientation discrimination, in the workplace.
  • Connecticut General Statutes sec 31-51q: prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who engage in protected speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the free speech provisions of the Connecticut Constitution. For example, protected speech might include opposition to unlawful activities, speech on matters of public concern, and speech regarding serious wrongdoing, intentional dishonesty, deliberately unconstitutional conduct, or threats to public health and safety.
  • The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act: prohibits any form of discrimination based on age, sex, race, national origin, or sexual orientation. It also makes it illegal to retaliate against an employee for actively opposing workplace discrimination or reporting it.
  • First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: makes it illegal to retaliate against employees who exercise their right to freedom of speech.

10 Signs of Workplace Retaliation

Retaliation can be subtle or blatant. However, any negative action taken by an employer which is severe enough to deter a reasonable employee from exercising their legal rights is likely to support a legal claim of retaliation. Any adverse change in working conditions might qualify as retaliation.

Here are ten ways in which retaliation might take shape after an employee exercises legally protected rights to spotlight workplace safety or public health issues, forbidden discrimination, and non-compliance with federal and state employment and environmental laws, among others.

Demotion: Any employer decision to lessen your status, limit responsibilities, curtail seniority privileges associated with your position, or reduce your salary, commission, or bonus can be evidence of retaliation. Any decrease in hourly wage, salary, commission payments, paid time off, sick leave, or family medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or overtime opportunities, can be evidence of retaliation as well.

Passed over for a promotion or raise: Another common form of retaliation takes the form of refusing to promote or to provide a salary raise or bonus, when the employee has clearly earned the recognition, and which is denied because of that employee exercising legal rights to complain about workplace conditions or employer activities.

Denied opportunities: When an employer refuses to provide educational benefits, stops funding attendance at conferences and seminars, or suddenly stops paying for travel or membership in a trade or professional organization after an employee files a complaint about workplace conditions, there might be retaliation. Employers might try to hide their intentions by claiming financial reasons for curtailing benefits and opportunities, but the discovery process attendant to an investigation or civil suit can uncover the real motives.

Excessive micromanagement: Suddenly, your work is examined or reviewed by a hostile supervisor who is looking for mistakes and missteps and who is constantly hounding you to go faster, change direction, or removes your authority to act independently. This is retaliation if it is in the wake of a legally sanctioned complaint.

Salary reductions or loss of hours: Receiving a pay cut, losing regularly scheduled hours, or losing a preferred shift to accommodate family or childcare responsibilities can also be a form of retaliation. These changes can sometimes be quite subtle, surrounded by reasonable-sounding justifications, which are merely covers for retaliation.

Exclusion: Being intentionally kept out of meetings, training, or workplace social events can feel like gaslighting at times, especially when these exclusions are sudden, and work colleagues go silent around you without explanation.

Reassignment: Having your customary responsibilities reassigned to other employees or having your schedule modified to cause undue hardship are other forms of retaliation. Disappearing workplace accommodations to care for family members or children, loss of regularity in shift assignments, or sudden assignment to less favorable shifts that causes you undue hardship is also retaliation. Assigning mandatory weekend or overnight shifts, reducing or increasing shift lengths, or constantly changing shift assignments to prevent you from long-term planning are also considered retaliatory.

Bullying or harassment: Sometimes, employers rely on other employees to enforce their displeasure with your complaints and encourage others to bully or harass you at the workplace. These measures can be humiliating and demoralizing as they isolate you from your peers.

Excessive negative job performance reviews: After years of favorable reviews and job promotions, an employer turns on an employee who has complained about any form of workplace discrimination or illegality by changing the tone and content of job performance reviews.

Termination: The ultimate form of retaliation is termination, loss of salary and well-being, loss of status, and a blot on your employment record. Termination can be actual or constructive. Actual termination is just being fired, however, constructive termination is when your employer subjects you to intolerable working conditions for the purpose of causing you to resign. Over a course of time, your employer might reprimand you for trivial incidents, write up serial negative job reviews, or engage in a scheme to humiliate you at work among your peers and threaten to terminate you if you don’t resign. The pressure becomes so intense that you are forced to quit, which might be considered constructive termination.

What Common Activities May Incite Workplace Retaliation?

Under federal and state law, an employee is protected against retaliation for exercising certain rights. Here are some examples of protected employee activities, protected in order to encourage compliance with an array of statutes.

You have the right to:

  • Speak out against sexual harassment and any form of employment discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, and sexual orientation.
  • Request a religious or disability accommodation
  • Report suspected illegality to the police or other government agencies
  • File a workers’ compensation claim
  • Serve as a witness in a case against your employer
  • Report discrimination or harassment to a supervisor or manager, according to an employee handbook
  • Resist sexual advances by a co-worker or supervisor
  • Refuse to engage in discrimination at the workplace
  • Take a lawfully entitled leave
  • File a good-faith complaint with the EEOC or Labor Commissioner
  • Inquire about salaries to uncover discriminatory wages and benefits
  • Engage in certain political activities
  • Engage in certain workplace organizing activities
  • Question an employer’s immigration policies

What Should You Do If You Suspect Workplace Retaliation?

To fully protect your rights to report workplace violations, you should review any employee handbook to familiarize yourself with the internal procedures. You should determine whether there are internal procedures that could be explored before filing a complaint with the EEOC or Connecticut state authorities.

Whenever possible, you should consult experienced and knowledgeable Connecticut employment lawyers, like Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC, before you report any wrongdoing internally or to federal or state authorities. We know how to guide you through the difficult and often stressful process of adequately documenting wrongdoing, complying with any internal reporting procedures, gathering evidence of retaliation, and timely reporting of such discrimination to appropriate federal and/or state authorities. Even the decision to file federal or state charges requires a systematic analysis of your rights and recovery possibilities under the various federal and state statutes that govern retaliation.

How is workplace retaliation proven?

To successfully prove a claim of workplace retaliation, a complainant must prove:

  • You were engaged in a protected activity of complaining about workplace discrimination, culture, public health, and safety, or compliance with federal and state laws;
  • You suffered some form of negative workplace consequences; and
  • And the adverse employment action was caused by the protected activity.

Employers often defend these actions by fabricating stories about inadequate performance, misdeeds, and incompetence despite those instances having never shown up in previous performance reviews until the retaliation began. These cases are emotionally difficult, and you deserve counsel that understands the pressures and insecurities that accompany such courageous steps as reporting illegality and standing up for your rights. At Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC, we will fiercely represent you while compassionately guiding you through the entire legal process.

How Can a Workplace Retaliation Attorney Help You?

Navigating employment law, especially the law of workplace retaliation, is treacherous and requires a skilled lawyer who knows the advantages and disadvantages of each of the various routes one might take. A workplace retaliation lawyer understands how to preserve evidence, maneuver through the mandatory negotiation process, rigorously advocate on your behalf, and choose remedies that make you whole once again. That might mean a financial settlement with or without reinstatement and payment for lost wages, lost promotion, and lost time.

Here’s how experience counts: an experienced and knowledgeable workplace retaliation lawyer can set the course and keep you feeling protected throughout the often difficult route toward resolution of the conflict.

Taking Legal Action Against Workplace Retaliation

If you are considering reporting a law violation against your employer, consult with a workplace retaliation lawyer first to devise a plan that will more fully protect your rights against employer retaliation.

If you have already filed a complaint and believe that your employer is punishing you for exercising legally protected rights, then it’s time to contact an experienced employment lawyer. At Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC, we can arrange for a consultation and case assessment in a timely fashion so that you can preserve all of your options. We are conveniently located in both Hartford and New London. Our Hartford office can be reached at 860-246-2466, and our New London office can be reached at 860-442-2466, or you can contact us online.