Under federal law, every worker has the right to report unsafe or illegal workplace practices on the part of their employer without fear of retaliation. This means that you will have a solid cause of action for a lawsuit against your employer if they take actions to punish you for calling attention to their improper actions. What constitutes employer retaliation, and how can you prove it?
Adverse retaliatory actions
Just about any action by your employer could count as retaliation, as long as it serves the dual purposes of punishing a whistleblower and dissuading other employees from becoming whistleblowers. This punishment can take different forms, depending upon the nature of the company’s workforce and business structure.
The most obvious way that an employer might retaliate against you for whistleblowing is by terminating your employment. However, there are many more subtle methods of retaliation.
For example, an employer might demote you, modify your work duties in a negative way, deny you a promotion, modifying your hours or deny you benefits. Even if the employer doesn’t actually do any of these things, they may still be liable for retaliation if they try to intimidate employees with veiled or blatant threats of taking such actions.
What you’ll need to prove
If you decide to bring a lawsuit against your employer for retaliation, your attorney will have to prove that the employer’s actions constitute retaliation in violation of federal law. Your employer will no doubt try to prove an alternate justification for their actions that does not constitute retaliation.
For example, if you face discipline at work, you may seek to show that the discipline was the result of your employer’s intention to punish you for whistleblowing. Your employer, on the other hand, may try to present evidence of your work performance, behavioral issues, the company’s financial situation and things of that nature, in order to try to show that their actions were necessary, and had nothing to do with your report of their misconduct.
There are times when your moral code requires you to report wrongdoing, even if it is from your employer. In these instances, federal law gives you the ability to vindicate your rights if your employer takes actions to punish you for doing the right thing.