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What is unlawful workplace retaliation?

Employees in Illinois deserve to feel that their job is secure if they stand up to unlawful activities in the workplace. It is against federal law for a job applicant or an employee to be retaliated against for standing up for their protected rights in the workplace. Such rights include freedom from discrimination and harassment.

Employees are protected if the file a charge, lawsuit or participate in an investigation with the U.S. Equal Employee Opportunity Commission, or serve as a witness in any of the above activities. Employees who notify their superiors that discrimination or harassment are being committed in the workplace are protected under federal law. If an employer who is investigating allegations of harassment asks an employee questions, they cannot be retaliated against for answering the questions. Employees do not have to follow orders that are discriminatory. Employees are protected if they resist sexual advances or take actions to prevent such acts from happening to others. Employees are protected if the ask for a reasonable accommodation due to their religion or a disability. Asking how much other employees are paid to determine whether wage discrimination is taking place is also protected. This list is not all-exhaustive; there are other protected activities as well.

Employers are free to take disciplinary actions, including firing a worker, for reasons that are neither discriminatory nor retaliatory. However, if this is done as a response to activities protected under federal law and would discourage other employees from asserting their rights, it may be unlawful retaliation.

Giving a poor performance review or reprimanding a worker can be retaliatory in certain situations. Transferring the worker into an undesirable job position can also be retaliation. Employers cannot verbally or physically abuse workers. Employers may not threaten to call or actually call the authorities in retaliation on a worker. Also, employers cannot make a worker's duties more difficult in retaliation. Again, this list is not all-exhaustive; there are other acts that may constitute unlawful retaliation.

This is only a brief overview of unlawful workplace retaliation. It cannot serve as the basis for any legal action and is not legal advice. Workers who are concerned that they have been unlawfully retaliated against at work may want to seek the help they need to stand up for their rights.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Retaliation," accessed Feb. 18, 2018

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