As a business owner, you have an obligation to respect the basic rights of your workers. Complying with employment laws and safety standards is important to your company’s financial solvency and ability to attract new talent.
When you demote a worker, cut their wages or terminate them, they could potentially claim that your company retaliated against them. What constitutes retaliation?
Retaliation claims often start with a worker complaint
When an employee experiences harassment by a co-worker, faces a violation of their rights or notices the company violating federal law, they might report the issue to management, human resources or even a government agency. Once a worker makes a complaint with a company or reports illegal behavior to an enforcement agency, they legally have protection against retaliation.
Companies cannot punish employees for speaking up about law violations or violations of their rights. Punishing someone for speaking up is retaliation can take many forms. The most obvious would be a company firing someone after they file a complaint.
Companies might also demote someone, refuse to promote them or cut their wages. More subtle forms of retaliation can include reducing hours for an hourly worker, giving someone worse shifts, or limiting what sales leads or other critical information they have access to. Some companies even retaliate by releasing information about the complaint or reports made by one worker to the rest of the staff, creating a hostile work environment.
If your company needs to demote or terminate a worker who has previously made a complaint about management or alleged illegal activity at the company, carefully documenting every valid reason for your decision to terminate can help you push back against claims of inappropriate retaliation. An experienced attorney can help you.