3 common forms of inappropriate employer retaliation

The law protects workers when they engage in certain types of conduct. Employers are in a position of authority and can sometimes abuse that power. Workers may feel vulnerable if they speak up about someone’s illegal conduct at work or discrimination that they witnessed on the job. They may feel nervous about requesting medical leave or seeking accommodations that could make their job easier and safer for them to perform.

Workers may fear retaliation even though the law technically forbids it. They may expect their employers to mistreat them if they complain about company conduct. After all, businesses aren’t known for being consistent rule followers. The following are some of the more common forms of employer retaliation that deter workers from using their rights in the workplace.

Retaliatory transfers

Many companies have a variety of different departments and roles. Some have multiple shifts and different facilities. Organizations may decide to transfer workers internally from one shift or position to another. Sometimes, those transfers can effectively be a demotion or a form of career punishment. If workers speak up about misconduct, discrimination or harassment within the teams, they shouldn’t be the ones facing an unwanted transfer to another location or department. The parties misbehaving should be the ones penalized.

Performance review and discipline issues

Sometimes, companies retaliate by taking issue with a worker’s performance. The employee continues to do the best job they can, but the company starts returning negative performance reviews even though they continue doing the job the same way they always have. Other times, a worker may start facing disciplinary efforts including verbal reprimands in front of their teammates or write-ups that become part of their permanent performance record. Particularly when the company does not enforce the same rules against other workers or previously did not enforce those rules against that worker, the sudden change in enforcement practices could be due to inappropriate retaliation.


Negative performance reviews and write-ups are often warning signs of worse retaliation around the corner. Employers might terminate workers either by firing them personally or including them in a mass staff reduction. Typically, employers don’t admit that the decision to fire a worker relates to them the engaging in protected activities or notifying the company of certain issues. It is quite common for employers to try to obfuscate the truth by hiding the real reason that they terminate a worker.

Learning more about employment laws can help workers identify when they may be vulnerable to company misconduct. Fighting back against retaliation and other employer abuses can potentially benefit an affected worker and anyone else working for the same company.

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