Workplace Retaliation: Understanding Your Rights


Employer retaliation, such as a suspension, a pay cut, or even a termination, after an employee reports illegal activities or refuses to participate in illegal activities, is a form of discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to punish an employee for being a whistleblower. Retaliatory action violates federal laws, the Tennessee Human Rights Act, and the Tennessee whistleblower statute. Find out more about your rights if you are facing work place retaliation.

What is Protected Conduct?

Protected conduct is actions that an employer may not punish or discriminate against an employee for taking. These actions include filing complaints with government agencies, serving with the armed forces, asking for overtime pay they are entitled to, or taking family or medical leave when needed. This term also applies to whistleblower activity, such as reporting illegal activity, opposing illegal discrimination, and refusing to participate in illegal activity.

Who is Protected?

Most protected conduct cases require direct involvement in implementing or being directly subjected to illegal activity. There are some Tennessee retaliation cases that have involved an employee condemning an action, even if they were not a participant or were not subjected to the illegal action. These cases, however, are typically exceptions to the rule.

It is not retaliation to take action against an employee for criticizing their employer, for refusing to perform legal tasks, or for requesting a transfer. Employers may deny transfers or take punitive action for employees who refuse legal tasks, without being accused of discrimination. Unkind or unpleasant behavior does not mean that your employer is acting beyond their rights.

Proving Employment Retaliation

It can be difficult to prove retaliation claims. You must prove cause and effect, as retaliation cases rely heavily on establishing how your actions lead to your employer taking action against you. The strongest cases are those with materially adverse action taken against the employee shortly after they have engaged in a protected action. An employee who receives notice of termination the day after they have reported illegal activity will most likely have a strong case.

Documentation can also strengthen your claim. If you can provide evidence of negative or pressuring comments or actions on the part of your employer, your attorney will have an easier time helping you support your claim. However, your employer may also have documentation that can discredit you, such as poor performance evaluations.

If your employer was intending to terminate your employment before you engaged in a protective action, it is unlikely that you will be able to form a strong retaliation claim. It is admirable to do the right thing and report illegal activity, but doing so after you are facing termination or punishment is unlikely to be considered grounds for retaliatory action. Your status prior to the engaging in protected conduct is what matters in a retaliation case.

Find Help from Memphis Employment Law Attorneys

Since 1980, Donati Law, PLLC has helped workers protect themselves from unfair employer actions, including retaliation. We are passionate about fighting for the rights of Tennessee employees. Our team of Memphis employment law lawyers is prepared to help you with unique strategies and caring client service. We have more than a century of collective experience to call on to handle your claim. Get the help you need today!

Contact our offices to speak to a member of our team. Call (901) 209-5500.

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To discuss your case with an accomplished attorney who cares, give our firm a call at (901) 209-5500 or fill out the form below.

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