What You Should Know About Workplace Retaliation

You are probably aware that laws exist to protect employees from unlawful harassment and discrimination. However, you might not be aware that the same laws also protect employees from retaliation for reporting or opposing unlawful harassment or discrimination. It means that employers cannot punish employees from participating in workplace investigations or making harassment or discrimination complaints.

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What Is Workplace Retaliation?

Retaliation happens if an employer punishes an employee for participating in a legally protected activity. The punishment can include firing, failure to promote, refusal to hire, increased attention to the employee’s work, unjustified threats, salary reduction, refusal to hire, shift or job reassignment, and numerous other negative job actions by the employer.


Retaliation might be quite explicit as in the case of termination, but it can be subtler too. If the retaliation is subtle, you must consider the circumstances of the situation. However, as long as the adverse action of the employer would discourage a reasonable person from making a complaint, it is illegal retaliation.

Not all harassment is illegal. If you have reported that you are being sexually harassed, or that your boss has made racist comments about you or others, and then your employer demotes or fires you, that is unlawful retaliation. But if you report that your boss is mean, that your performance review was inaccurate or unfair, etc., and then you are fired, that is not unlawful retaliation.

When is Workplace Retaliation Prohibited?

To be unlawful, the retaliation has to relate to unlawful discrimination or harassment, which means it has to involve discrimination or harassment that is based on race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, national origin, age, or disability.
If it involves these items, then you are protected from unlawful retaliation if you engage in what is called “protected activity.” Protected activity includes:

  • Protesting, opposing, or reporting unlawful discrimination or harassment
  • Filing a complaint of unlawful discrimination or harassment against a current or previous employer
  • Filing a charge of discrimination with either the EEOC or the Texas Workforce Commission alleging unlawful discrimination or harassment
  • Making informal complaints about unlawful discrimination or harassment to supervisors
  • Participating in discrimination or harassment lawsuits, including as witnesses
  • Cooperating with a government investigation of the employer
  • Taking legally-protected FMLA leave
  • Requesting a reasonable workplace accommodation for your disability

How Can You Tell Whether an Employer is Retaliating?

It can be hard at times to tell whether an employer is retaliating. Retaliation is when an employer makes changes in the workplace that have a negative effect on your employer. It can come in the form of your employer suddenly micromanaging what you do, unfair and unexpected negative job performance review, or being suddenly excluded from staff meetings on a project that you have been working on.

What Can You Do If Retaliation is Suspected?

If you believe that your employer is retaliating against you, first talk to a human resources representative or a supervisor to find out why the negative actions are being taken against you. You should ask specific questions.

If the employer cannot provide a reasonable explanation, voice your concern of being retaliated against. Your employer will probably deny it, but the reality is that they can do it without even realizing it. It is important to highlight the fact that negative action was taken after you complained.

If the employer is neither willing to admit any wrongdoing or doing something to correct the problem, you should consider taking your concerns to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Texas Workforce Commission.

Are You a Victim of Retaliation?

If you believe that you are a victim of retaliation in the workplace, you should consult with an employment lawyer to seek damages including emotional distress, lost wages, punitive or liquidated damages, lawyer fees, costs, and interests.

A good lawyer will tell you how strong your case is, the amount of compensation you are likely to recover and much more. However, you should know that the time frames within which to bring claims of retaliation against employers are usually short, so contact your employment lawyer immediately.


The Scott Law Firm is the most unique employee-focused law firm in Dallas. Matt Scott has one focus: advocating for employees. That’s it. With over two decades of experience representing large companies, he has now made it his mission to help individual employees from all walks of life without direct cost to them. As a 24-year corporate veteran, Matt Scott has created the premier employment law firm for any employee who needs a first-rate professional advocate. The Scott Law Firm puts legal expertise in the hands of those who need it.