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3 examples of unlawful employer retaliation

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2024 | Employment Law

As a general rule, workers enjoy legal protection from business misconduct. Employers should not violate laws about worker rights. They have to conform to rules about minimum wage and overtime pay. They must respect rules about medical leave and disability accommodations.

When workers experience issues on the job, they should be able to turn to their employers without fear of punishment. A worker who requests unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or who tries to unionize with their co-workers shouldn’t fear penalties for using their basic employment rights.

Unfortunately, retaliation is often one of the top reasons for employment lawsuits, as businesses may mistreat workers who know and try to use their rights in the workplace. The following are some of the most common types of employer retaliation that may warrant legal action on the part of affected workers.

Demotion or transfer

Employers can retaliate against workers by changing the jobs that they perform. Sometimes, a company might move a worker to a less prestigious position or a similar job that pays less. Other times, management might decide to transfer an employee in response to their complaints about harassment or discrimination. Moving a worker to a less desirable shift or a different facility can be a form of retaliation that diminishes the value the worker derives from their employment.


Some companies fire workers shortly after they complain about misconduct or make use of their employment rights. Particularly when there have not previously been issues with a worker’s performance, the employee may question whether the termination was a punishment. If the timing of a termination is suspicious, workers may question if their firing or inclusion in a mass layoff was retaliatory.

Reduced opportunities

Retaliation is sometimes more subtle than a sudden firing or demotion. Businesses can punish workers by refusing to include them in prestigious projects or by giving them fewer sales leads. Even a slow change in someone’s schedule could be a type of retaliation. Workers who no longer receive the best shifts may find that that translates to a drop in wages, especially if they are in a sales or service profession.

When employees believe that a company has wrongfully retaliated against them, they may have grounds to take legal action against the organization. The more documentation a worker has of their prior protected activity and the company’s response, the easier it may be for them to substantiate their claims of retaliation. Holding employers accountable for misconduct can potentially compensate affected employees and prevent others from experiencing the same misconduct in the future.