The Basics of Protected Activities and Retaliation Laws

Businesses have to constantly be on guard for possible issues arising from legal complications. This is easier said than done due to the complicated and constantly changing nature of law in the modern world. A lawsuit brought against a company can cause untold financial damage, even in the event that the company ultimately wins the case. Because of this, it’s imperative that organizations do everything they can to avoid legal trouble in the first place. 

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws establish the protection of employees’ rights to be free from harassment and discrimination in the workplace. One of the primary issues a business should be on the lookout for is infringing on an employee’s legally protected activities under EEO laws.

What are Protected Activities?

Protected activities are activities that workers are legally permitted to engage in without any fear of retaliation (more on what constitutes a retaliation later) from their employers or supervisors. Examples of protected activities include acting as a witness at a hearing or internal investigation, assisting coworkers with their discrimination claims, and refusing sexual advances in the workplace. You can read the full list from the EEOC, but protected activities can be summed up by saying that employees have the right to make claims to HR and take part in discrimination inquiries without any fear of retaliation from their bosses.

What are Retaliations?

In terms of EEO laws, retaliation is any form of punishment that comes as a result of a worker’s participation in protected activities. Employees may not be fired, demoted, harassed, or treated unfairly in any other way as a response to their filing of a complaint of discrimination, participating in discrimination proceedings, or otherwise opposing discrimination. This could include an employee’s supervisor changing the employee’s schedule without good cause or any other type of retaliatory action that is made due to participation in protected activities.

Essentially, retaliation laws exist to ensure employees can feel safe in the knowledge that they can speak up for themselves or others without risking the security of their job or the safety of their workplace. Retaliation is an increasingly common claim that is made against organizations and is something that can occur in unforeseen ways. For instance, an employee being passed over by their supervisor for consideration on a promotion due to a history of participating in protected activities could result in a legal case being brought against the company.

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), retaliation is the most common issue alleged by federal employees with nearly half of all complaints including allegations of retaliation. It is imperative that business owners, managers, and anyone who acts in a supervisory role be aware of retaliation laws and what actions they could take that could be interpreted as retaliation. The human nature to retaliate against others is something that needs to be actively suppressed in the workplace. Educating everyone who has a leadership capacity on EEO laws is essential for avoiding potential discrimination lawsuits.

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