What is Considered Employer Retaliation?

Employer retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity, which includes making a complaint of discrimination or harassment, participating in an investigation of discrimination or harassment, reporting a violation of a law, or filing a claim with a government agency. 

Adverse actions can include termination, demotion, reduction in pay, denial of benefits, or other negative employment actions. However, not every negative employment action is considered retaliation. The employee must also show that the adverse action was taken because they engaged in protected activity.

Demotions and Terminations

Demotions and terminations are both negative employment actions that an employer may take. However, they differ in terms of their scope and severity.

A demotion typically involves a reduction in an employee’s job title, pay, or responsibilities. For example, an employee may be demoted from a management position to a lower-level position, or their hours or pay may be reduced. Demotions are often used as a disciplinary measure for employees who have not met job expectations or who have engaged in misconduct.

A termination, on the other hand, is the complete end of an employee’s employment relationship with an employer. It can be for cause, such as being fired for violation of company policy, or without cause, such as being impacted by a layoff. Terminations can also be voluntary, such as when an employee resigns or retires.

It’s important to note that both demotions and terminations can be considered wrongful if they are done for reasons that are discriminatory, retaliatory, or in violation of public policy. For example, an employer cannot demote or terminate an employee because of their race, gender, religion, or disability. Similarly, an employer cannot demote or terminate an employee in retaliation for their engaging in protected activity, such as filing a complaint of discrimination or harassment.

Illegal Employer Retaliation 

Illegal employer retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee. The employer takes this action against the employee because the employee engaged in protected activity, such as making a complaint of discrimination or harassment, participating in an investigation of discrimination or harassment, or filing a claim with a government agency. Adverse actions can include termination, demotion, reduction in pay, denial of benefits, or other negative employment actions.

Some examples of illegal employer retaliation include:

  • Terminating an employee for making a complaint of discrimination or harassment.
  • Demoting an employee for engaging in protected activity.
  • Reducing an employee’s pay or benefits because they filed a complaint of discrimination or harassment.
  • Failing to promote an employee because they engaged in protected activity.
  • Isolating or ostracizing an employee because they made a complaint of discrimination or harassment.

Not every negative employment action is considered retaliation. The employee must show that the adverse action was taken because they engaged in protected activity.

Classes Protected Against Discrimination

Under Minnesota law, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who participated in protected activity, and employees who are retaliated against may be entitled to damages, including back pay, reinstatement, and compensation for emotional distress. 

In Minnesota, some of the protected classes include:

  • Sex: Employees are protected from employment discrimination on the basis of their sex under Minnesota law.
  • Race: Minnesota law prohibits discrimination in employment based on an individual’s race.
  • National origin: Discrimination based on an individual’s national origin or ancestry is prohibited in Minnesota.
  • Disability: Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, employers have to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities and cannot discriminate against employees with disabilities. 
  • Age: Minnesota law does not limit age discrimination to people over the age of 40.
  • Religion: Employers are not legally allowed to discriminate against employees based on their religion, beliefs, or practices.

Minnesota law also protects the following additional protected classes from discrimination in employment: color, creed, marital status, public assistance, sexual orientation, gender identity,familial status, and local human rights commission activity.  There may also be protections for some protected classes under federal law. 

Identifying Employer Retaliation

If someone believes they’ve been discriminated against on the basis of a protected class or protected conduct, they may have a claim for retaliation.

If you need help determining if the situation you experienced in your workplace is employer retaliation, contact our experienced team today to speak with one of our employment lawyers.

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Amy Boyle

Amy Boyle

Amy is a Founding Partner of MSB Employment Justice. She brings a personalized approach to each of her cases and prides herself on giving her clients a candid assessment of their case. While Amy handles all types of employment matters, she has a particular focus on representing women who have experienced sex discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, and retaliation at work and whistleblower clients who have reported illegal workplace practices or companies engaged in deceitful conduct. See Full Bio

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