What you should understand about workplace retaliation

While the labor laws here in New York provide workers with considerable protection against everything from wage and hour violations to workplace discrimination, the unfortunate reality is that they are often reluctant to take any action owing to a fear of reprisals.   

Specifically, many workers fear that their employer will exact some measure of vengeance against them for their perceived disloyalty. While this fear is very understandable and very real, workers must nevertheless understand that these very same labor laws also expressly protect them from workplace retaliation.

What exactly does the state’s labor law prohibit concerning retaliation?

Section 215 of the New York State Labor Law dictates that employers cannot take any sort of retaliatory measures against an employee for doing any of the following:

  • Discussing a possible labor violation with management
  • Formally filing a complaint with the Labor Department
  • Exercising their rights under applicable labor laws
  • Supplying information to the Labor Department
  • Providing testimony in an investigation or associated proceeding with the Labor Department

What forms might this prohibited retaliation take?

While retaliation against employees very clearly includes termination, wage cuts, demotions or reductions in hours, it can also take more subtle and equally pernicious forms, including:

  • Scheduling an employee to work undesirable hours
  • Re-assigning an employee to work in an undesirable location
  • Removing previously granted privileges
  • Re-assigning an employee to undesirable duties
  • Setting unrealistic production expectations
  • Providing negative performance reviews despite a track record of success
  • Increasing direct supervision

What happens if the Labor Department finds an employer has engaged in retaliation?

If the Labor Department determines that an employer has retaliated against an employee, it can assess a fine of anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000, and order payment of both lost compensation and liquidated damages to the affected employee.

Does this mean an affected employee cannot pursue legal action on their own?

No. The affected employee has two years from the date of the alleged retaliation to file a civil lawsuit. If he or she prevails, the court may order everything from payment of lost wages and attorney fees to reinstatement and restoration of privileges.

If you have concerns about being victimized by workplace retaliation, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can examine your situation, explain the law and pursue solutions as soon as possible. 

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