Retaliation occurs when you are punished by your employer for claiming a right or engaging in a lawful activity. Retaliation can occur in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

All the federal, New York and New York City laws that make it unlawful to discriminate against or harass employees or job applicants prohibit an employer from firing, demoting, harassing or otherwise retaliating against individuals who report or file a discrimination charge, or who participate in the investigation of a claim, proceeding, or lawsuit filed under those laws, even if the employer is found not to have discriminated or harassed. In addition, federal, New York State and New York City laws protect you from retaliation in the event you are a “whistleblower,” that is, you report your employer to authorities for maintaining unsafe working conditions, or for engaging in unlawful or criminal activity.

How do I know if I’ve been a victim of retaliation?

Retaliation is often blatant, but can also be so subtle that you don’t notice it until long after it has begun and impacted your work life. And your employer may have a valid reason for treating you in a way that may seem like retaliation. However, if you experience any of the following, you may be a victim of retaliation:

  • You report your employer to officials for unlawfully dumping sewage into the street. You are soon thereafter terminated.
  • You cooperate in an investigation into whether your employer unlawfully dumped sewage into the street and notice that little by little, your hours and responsibilities are reduced and opportunities for advancement are being taken away.
  • You have always received outstanding performance reviews. You reported to human resources that a co-worker (a rising star in the organization) was sexually harassing the women who worked with him. After that employee is terminated, your supervisor tells you that you are being demoted because you are not a team player.
  • You take time off to care for a sick relative; when you return to work, you are the only employee who does not receive a raise for the next year.
  • You testify in a race discrimination lawsuit brought against your employer. You are transferred to the night shift without notice.

I think I am a victim of retaliation:

  • Act quickly—there is a limited amount of time for you to take legal action.
  • If you were fired and received severance, check the severance agreement to make sure you didn’t waive your rights to claim discrimination. (Even if you did, the waiver may not be valid).
  • Gather written reviews and other documents proving your performance quality, as well as your employee manual, if published.
  • Get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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