Throughout the United States and in Missouri, employment laws exist to protect employees in the workplace. Your employer is responsible for taking measures to ensure that your environment is free of discrimination and harassment. Likewise, you have the right to collect a minimum wage and take breaks under the state’s labor laws. If your employer has retaliated against you as a means of intimidation, an employment discrimination lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri can help you build a case for compensation.
What Is “Retaliation” in the Workplace?
Employer retaliation is any punitive action taken against an employee with the purpose of intimidating or unlawfully removing the individual from the organization. While your boss may outrank you within your corporation, he or she cannot legally use his or her position to prevent you from exercising your legal rights. Retaliation is an illegal practice, and any employer who retaliates against you could be liable for providing compensation in the form of a settlement or a court-ordered payout.
What Does Employer Retaliation Look Like?
Employer retaliation most often takes the form of a termination, a demotion, or a reduction in the employee’s pay. Subtler forms could include providing fewer shifts, restricting the employee’s access to company resources, or reducing the employee’s responsibilities. Sometimes, employer retaliation extends beyond the employee’s time with the company via negative referrals to potential future employers.
What Is the Motive Behind Employer Retaliation?
Employer retaliation often serves to create a hostile environment in which employees are afraid to report illegal behavior on the part of their employer. Sometimes, retaliatory measures are taken to maximize the bottom line by preventing workers from collecting the compensation they are owed, taking time off, or going on breaks. In either case, retaliation constitutes an abuse of power that is illegal.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Federal and state statutes prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, pregnancy status, religion, age, and other characteristics. Accordingly, hiring practices, the allocation of company resources, and compensation packages cannot be contingent on an employee’s membership within a preferred group. Sometimes, discrimination occurs because of an employee’s associations. For example, a biased employer might fire an employee who marries someone of a different race or requests Sundays off regularly to attend church.
Employees who experience discrimination in the workplace have the right to report the incident to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR). These organizations are authorized to investigate cases and grant employees permission to sue their employers over matters pertaining to discrimination. If your employer punishes you for reporting an incident or speaking out against discrimination in your workplace, their action constitutes employer retaliation.
Sexual harassment in the workplace often overlaps with gender discrimination. If the prevailing company culture or the actions of one individual create a hostile environment for an employee based on gender, he or she could have grounds for a discrimination claim. While women overwhelmingly experience sexual harassment, men can be targeted as well. Examples of sexual harassment include:
- Teasing and inappropriate comments
- Making advancement contingent on sexual favors
- Self-exposure in front of an employee
- The circulation of lewd materials via email, texts, or other forms of communication
- The circulation of material that is derogatory towards one gender
- Forced sexual contact
Employees who experience sexual harassment are usually encouraged to report the incident to HR and speak with an attorney. Your lawyer can take steps to compile evidence on your behalf, including saving correspondence between you and your employer and identifying witnesses. If your employer retaliates against you for coming forward, you may have grounds for a retaliation claim in addition to your sexual harassment claim.
Violations of Wage and Hour Laws
If your employer prohibits you from taking the breaks you are entitled to or pays you under the minimum wage, they are in violation of wage and hour laws. Similarly, if they do not compensate you according to your contract or provide you with the specified number of days off, they can be held accountable for going back on the agreement. Retaliatory action is often used to deter employees from standing up against such practices.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA) is a federal law that obligates employers with over 50 employees to grant time off for medical leave, pregnancy, emergencies pertaining to military service, and the care of a family member. Most qualifying conditions merit 12 weeks off, and employees are often eligible to take paid vacation days during their FMLA leave.
A common FMLA violation on the part of the employer is the failure to continue the employee’s health insurance. Other common errors include terminating an employee for missing work without taking proactive measures to learn that the reason for the absence was FMLA-related and requiring an employee to perform work-related tasks while on FMLA leave.
In a work context, whistleblowing is the act of reporting inappropriate or illegal behavior in the workplace. For example, an employee might report being instructed to act in violation of public policy while at work. Sometimes, the whistleblower makes the report on behalf of himself or herself, however, other times, the beneficiary of the report might be a colleague or another individual.
Whistleblowing often overlaps with workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. For example, if you report witnessing that one of your co-workers is routinely teased because of her physical appearance, you would be considered a whistleblower. All employees are protected by whistleblower laws, which state that employers may not retaliate in such circumstances.
When Should You Meet With an Employment Discrimination Lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri?
A personal injury lawyer who specializes in employment law can help you build a case against your employer for discrimination and any related retaliatory actions. The best time to speak with a lawyer is soon after the incident occurs. Your lawyer can walk you through the process of reporting the incident to HR and either the EEOC or the MCHR, if necessary.
Keep in mind that while the statute of limitations is five years for most personal injury claims, the EEOC must receive information about the incident within 300 days to investigate. Likewise, the MCHR must receive official notification of the issue within 180 days. While employer retaliation is a crime in its own right, your case may be contingent on information revealed in an anti-discrimination investigation.
What Damages Can You Claim in an Employer Retaliation Case?
With convincing evidence and solid arguments, you may be able to hold your employer legally accountable for the losses you experienced in connection with the retaliatory action. Those losses can include any income you missed plus the value of any benefits you did not earn. Emotional distress and the cost of finding a new job can be listed on the claim as well.
In some cases, individuals who have been illegally fired seek reinstatement in their old position. If your employer retaliation claim is connected to a case involving discrimination, harassment, or another type of employment law violation, you can seek damages for the original incident separately.
Employer retaliation is an illegal practice that Missouri courts take very seriously. You have every right hold your employer accountable for any violations of laws pertaining to discrimination, harassment, labor, and/or whistleblowing. Our lawyers are committed to seeing justice upheld in the workplace. To speak with an employment discrimination lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri, contact Holman Schiavone, LLC.