Taking adverse actions against an employee can be an unpleasant task for employers. Unfortunately, it could also be illegal.
For instance, employers can face serious penalties if an adverse employment action is retaliatory.
An unwelcome – and unlawful – surprise
A recent case involving retaliatory actions made headlines when a jury awarded an employee $450,000 after his employer fired him.
The man requested an exception to the company’s practice of holding birthday parties for employees. He cited his anxiety disorder. Rather than make this accommodation, the employer threw a surprise birthday party for the man. He suffered a panic attack as a result.
The employer criticized the man for his response and fired him, making matters worse. The employer said the firing stemmed from the “events of the previous week.”
Retaliation and wrongful termination
Employees have the right to engage in protected activities without facing retaliation. In other words, employers should not punish employees for:
- Complaining about harassment or discrimination
- Refusing to engage in illegal acts
- Being a witness in a legal complaint
- Reporting unsafe work conditions
- Reporting a work accident
- Opposing unreasonably dangerous tasks
- Requesting an accommodation
Demoting or firing a worker for participating in these activities can spark legal action. Employees may file discrimination claims or make retaliation or wrongful termination accusations.
Avoiding similar situations
Parties can avoid these situations. Employers can:
- Provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities
- Refrain from retaliatory actions
- Establish and enforce workplace policies that prevent misconduct
Employees can protect themselves by understanding their rights. Further, keeping records can be crucial, especially:
- Requests for accommodations
- Responses to requests from employers
- Performance reviews
These documents establish details about a protected activity and the response from employers.
However, disputes can still arise. Employers may not understand their duties; employees can misinterpret employment decisions; people can draw inaccurate conclusions. If concerns about an employment action arise, legal guidance can help parties respond appropriately.