Most federal laws from which employees derive rights contain what’s called an anti-retaliation provision. Basically, these provisions provide protection for employees who have engaged in a “protected activity.” A protected activity is normally thought to be an act complaining an employer’s violation of federal law. Often you’ll see retaliation become an issue in the context of federal anti-discrimination laws. For example, an employer cannot legally terminate an employee solely for that employee’s filing of an EEOC complaint. The quality of retaliation protection afforded varies according to the given federal law. However, one constant is that anti-retaliation provisions seek to protect the acts of an employee who has legitimate concerns about their employer’s adherence to a given federal law.
From the employee’s perspective, retaliation protections are invaluable and without them most employee’s lawsuits would fall flat for fear of termination or other workplace punishment. Not surprisingly, employers view retaliation protections somewhat differently. To them, retaliation protections mean they cannot terminate a disagreeable employee. A recent article on the website Law.com highlights the differing attitudes of employers and employees.
Reasonable people may disagree about the importance of retaliation protections, but all agree that the provisions must be taken seriously. Under current law, employees are well served to know their rights and understand that their employer cannot punish them for asserting a federal right. Likewise, employers are equally well served to understand that an off-the-cuff punitive reaction to an employee’s complaint of violation of federal law, invites a claim of retaliation.