Retaliation in the Workplace

Florida Attorneys

Serving You and The State of Florida

What is Retaliation in the Workplace?

Retaliation in the workplace refers to any employer’s adverse action against an employee engaged in a legally protected activity. Wrongful disciplinary action, termination, and demotion all constitute retaliation on the employer’s behalf.

In Florida, employees are protected from workplace retaliation under the Civil Rights Act. Both federal and state laws state that an employee cannot be terminated for engaging in legally protected activities or reporting workplace violations.

What Does Workplace Retaliation Look Like?

Workplace retaliation has many forms and tends to occur when an employee files a complaint against their employer. The employer then responds with unjust punitive action.

The most common types of workplace retaliation are:

  • Employment termination
  • Demotion
  • Unwanted shift changes
  • Being reassigned to an unfavorable position or task
  • A salary reduction or loss of benefits
  • Harassment, sexual or otherwise

Workplace retaliation is often very evident in cases of termination or demotion. However, some retaliation tactics are more insidious and can go unnoticed by the employee. For example, if an employee files a complaint, the employer may change their attitude and treatment towards the employee, creating an unsavory and stressful working environment. This type of retaliation is especially harmful as it offers little hard evidence to help build up a case.

Other subtle retaliation tactics include:

  • Impromptu negative performance reviews
  • Exclusion from meetings or workplace outings
  • General favoritism towards other employees.

Some retaliation cases are murky. For example, suppose an employee files a complaint about age discrimination in the workplace but is fired for an unrelated reason such as poor work results. In that case, it might still be considered retaliation.

Workers’ Rights in Florida

In Florida, workers have every right to file harassment and discrimination complaints against their employers. Employees may report the issue directly to the employer or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Employees who file such complaints are protected from retaliation under federal law.

Employees are similarly protected if their claim gets dismissed at a later date. Under Florida’s Whistle Blower Act, employees are protected from employer retaliation when they report suspected workplace violations.

Under federal law, certain labor-related practices are considered protected acts. Legally, employees can take any of the following actions without consequence:

  • Reporting unwanted sexual advancements
  • Refusing to comply with discriminatory orders at work
  • Filing for unemployment or workers’ compensation benefits
  • Joining or forming a union and participating in union activities
  • Requesting salary information from their employer
  • Standing as a witness to any ongoing company investigations

If an employer adversely responds to any of the protected actions listed above, employees can file a workplace retaliation suit.

What Should I Do if I Suspect My Employer is Retaliating Against Me?

If you suspect you are the victim of workplace retaliation, consult your employer or human resources and ask for justification behind the adverse action against you. In some cases, your employer may have a reasonable explanation. For example, you may have been demoted due to a poor performance track record or moved to a different shift because the employer was under the impression you would prefer it. In such cases, the issue can be resolved with a simple conversation.

If your employer fails to provide a valid reason for their actions, confront them about retaliation. The employer will likely deny it; however, they may have retaliated without realizing it. In any case, you should point out how your employer’s behavior has changed after you acted against them and explain how their actions are adversely affecting you.

Filing a Workplace Retaliation Suit

Depending on the type of case, you may have to file a retaliation charge with the EEOC before proceeding to a lawsuit. From there, the agency will contact your employer for a response. The agency may choose to investigate, settle the claim, or defer to you and your employer to mediate the issue.

If the EEOC is unable to help you, you may decide to sue your employer. If your claim is successful, you can request a right to sue letter. You may then proceed with a lawsuit.

To file a retaliation lawsuit, you will need evidence of the following:

  • You experienced or witnessed discrimination or harassment in the workplace
  • You responded with a legally protected activity such as filing a complaint
  • Your employer responded with an adverse action
  • Said adverse action has negatively impacted you

Timing is key in a retaliation lawsuit. If the retaliation came in the immediate aftermath of filing a complaint, the case looks more open and shut. If there is a significant time gap between the two events, retaliation is harder to prove.

In many cases, you will need to show a lack of any other explanation. For example, if an employee has no negative performance reviews but receives one immediately after filing a complaint, they have a strong case for a retaliation lawsuit.

Should I Hire a Lawyer if I’ve Experienced Workplace Retaliation?

Once you receive your right to sue letter, you will have a short timeframe to file a lawsuit. For this reason, it is best to involve an experienced Florida employment attorney early in your case.

If you’ve been wrongfully disciplined after filing a complaint, hiring an employment lawyer to handle your case can help. Employment law is tricky, and all too often, juries side with the employer.

An employment lawyer can tell you how strong your case is and what type of compensation you might receive. They can help you compile evidence to build a solid case against your employer.

Litigation is costly for employers, so most retaliation cases are settled before they have the chance to get to court. An experienced attorney can make sure you receive the compensation to which you are entitled.

How Long Will my Case Take?

Employment lawsuits can be lengthy. In most cases, a settlement is reached after roughly one year. If the case is of higher value, it may take more than two years to settle. Since there is more at stake, higher-value cases take longer to resolve; each party will fight harder to win.

Cooperation can affect the timeline of your case. If all parties, including the plaintiff, defendant, and lawyers, are willing to cooperate, cases are resolved faster.

More than anything, choosing an experienced and trusted lawyer will help you reach a timely settlement.

Preventing Workplace Retaliation and Employers’ Duties

In order the prevent workplace retaliation, employers must implement specific company policies. Having policies in place helps companies avoid legal fines and lawsuits related to retaliation.

When a worker files a complaint with their employer, the employer must take precautionary measures, which include:

  • Documenting any action the employer takes towards preventing retaliation against the employee
  • Ensuring the employee’s complaint remains confidential
  • Ensuring the employee that their claim is being taken seriously

Retaliation law in Florida is complicated. Employers can consult an employment lawyer for advice on how to prevent workplace retaliation. Employment lawyers can help employers draft policy plans and bring them up to speed on handling labor issues.

What Compensation Can I Receive?

Compensation amounts vary drastically based on the nature of the case. However, settlements can reach higher amounts. Ten percent of wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuits result in $1 million settlements. Other damages you can recover include:

Lost Wages

If you can prove that you were wrongfully terminated or demoted, you may be able to receive back pay for the wages you lost. You may also receive front pay for the wages you will lose if you are not restored to your former position. In some cases, you may benefit from arguing that the demotion or termination will negatively impact your career path.

Lost Benefits

A change in shifts or hours worked can result in a loss of benefits. If you can prove that your schedule was wrongfully altered, you may be able to recover damages for lost benefits. Pay cuts can also lead to loss of benefits like health insurance. If your pay was cut as a form of retaliation, you might be able to recover the cost.

Pain and Suffering

Workplace retaliation can cause mental distress. Many employees who experience workplace retaliation feel their reputation is damaged, leading to embarrassment, frustration, and stress. Proving you have suffered emotional damage due to your employer’s retaliation can help you recover damages. However, you may have to obtain an evaluation from a mental health expert before you can make such a claim.

Attorney’s Fees

If you win your case, your employer may have to cover some of your legal costs. In most cases, your employer will have to pay your lawyer’s fees. If the sum is not enough to cover your lawyer’s fees, the rest can be paid out from your settlement.

Workplace Retaliation on the Rise

Despite employees having legal protection against it, workplace retaliation incidents are climbing. In 2017, nearly 49% of all claims filed with the EEOC were related to workplace retaliation. Yet, research suggests that the rate would likely be higher if more employees came forward about workplace violations.

Low Workplace Violation Reporting

An EEOC report found that only 30% of employees report harassment and discrimination to their employer, and only 15% take legal action. Further analysis found that under one-third of workers have informal conversations with their employer about workplace violations.

Fear of workplace retaliation is the primary reason workers choose not to report harassment and discrimination. According to the EEOC, 68% of sexual harassment allegations and 42% of LGBTQ discrimination allegations are related to retaliation.

Victims of workplace violations are often encouraged to seek help through internal channels such as managers and HR representatives. Unfortunately, such avenues are frequently of little benefit to employees since they often exist to squash any impulse to take legal action against a company.

Many companies circumvent the law by weaving forced arbitration policies into their employment contracts. When employees are hired, they waive their right to sue and must resolve disputes through mandatory internal arbitration.

Another reason for low reporting is a toxic work culture. A study found that 53% of employees cited hostile work culture as their reason for not reporting an issue. Workplace harassment victims might avoid coming forward due to fear of being ostracized by colleagues or because they believe the perpetrator may be protected by the employer.

The stark reality is that most people cannot afford to lose their jobs. Despite being legally protected against it, the threat of workplace retaliation leads many workers to stifle complaints.

Let Us Handle Your Workplace Retaliation Case

Recovering damages from your employer can be like pulling teeth. Our team of experienced legal professionals at the Lopez Legal Group will take on the hard work so you can rest easy knowing your case is in good hands. For a case review, give us a call at 727-933-0015 today. We are ready to help you win the settlement you deserve!

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