Retaliation Attorneys in Cleveland, Ohio
It takes courage to be a whistleblower and report suspected discrimination by your employer. You have the right to be free from mistreatment for doing so. If you are being retaliated against after reporting discrimination or illegal conduct by your employer, your rights may have been violated.
At Bolek Besser Glesius LLC, our Cleveland employment law and retaliation attorneys have helped many employees in your situation. If you need help, contact us today to ensure that your rights are protected.
Standing Up for Whistleblowers
The employment discrimination laws could not serve their purpose if employees were not willing to come forward and report conduct they reasonably believe to be illegal. But if employers were free to punish employees for speaking out, many would stay silent, thus undermining efforts to eliminate employment discrimination. For that reason, both Ohio and federal employment laws contain anti-retaliation provisions.
Employers may not fire, harass, demote, or otherwise “retaliate” against employees for standing up to discrimination in the workplace. The Ohio and federal employment laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, pregnancy, age, and disability contains separate provisions that also prohibit employers from taking retaliatory action against employees because they engaged in what’s called “protected activity.”
A variety of actions by employees are considered protected activity. First and foremost is making a good faith complaint of employment discrimination. Protected activity also includes opposing unlawful discrimination in the workplace or participating in an employment discrimination proceeding. Some particular examples of conduct that constitute protected activity include:
- Filing a Charge of Discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission
- Filing a lawsuit alleging employment discrimination
- Making a threat to file such a Charge of Discrimination or lawsuit
- Picketing in opposition to discrimination
- Refusing to obey an order reasonably believed to be discriminatory
- Being a witness in a lawsuit or investigation into employment discrimination
- Request a reasonable accommodation based on a disability or a religious practice
In addition, requesting medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act is a protected activity for which employers may not retaliate against employees.
To be protected from retaliation, the employee must act in good faith and in a reasonable manner. If the employee unreasonably interferes with the workplace, the anti-retaliation protections probably will not apply.
Once an employee has engaged in protected activity, an employer cannot take “adverse action” against the employee because of the protected activity. A retaliatory adverse action is something done by the employer that would dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity—for instance, opposing discrimination or complaining about discrimination—in the future. Termination for complaining about employment discrimination would be an obvious example of unlawful retaliation. But there are many other actions that could constitute retaliation, including but not limited to:
- Layoff, non-renewal of an employment contract, or refusal to hire
- Demotion or denial of a promotion
- Threats and intimidation
- Negative changes in job assignments, benefits, and privileges
- Suddenly negative performance evaluations
- Being put on a performance improvement plan
- Revocation of hospital practice privileges for physicians
- Increased employer surveillance
Although ordinary workplace annoyances and slights would not necessarily constitute retaliation, sudden changes in the way an employer treats you shortly after you have engaged in protected activity may be evidence of retaliation. In fact, in retaliation cases, the timing (also referred to as “temporal proximity”) between the adverse action and the protected activity is often a critical factor.
It is important to note that the federal employment laws do not protect only the employee who engages in protected activity from retaliation. They also protect people who are so closely related to or associated with the employee engaging in protected activity that retaliation against them would dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity in the future. By way of example, it would be illegal to retaliate against an employee because his wife, who worked for the same employer, complained of sexual harassment or some other form of employment discrimination. In that scenario, both employees would have a claim for illegal employment retaliation.
Protections for Reporting Illegal Conduct in the Workplace
Besides the employment discrimination statutes, a variety of other federal laws prohibit retaliation against employees who qualify as whistleblowers. For instance, public employees who are retaliated against for reporting misuse of public funds or public corruption may have protection under the First Amendment. Employees who report corporate fraud may be entitled to protection under Section 806 of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act or the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act protects employees from retaliation for complaining about a wide range of workplace safety issues. There are also several federal statutes protecting employees from retaliation for blowing the whistle on environmental violations.
Ohio law provides several statutory protections from retaliation for employees as well. Ohio Revised Code section 4123.90 makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim or attempting to file one. Employees who report a workplace felony or other criminal offense that poses an imminent risk of physical harm or a danger to public health or safety may have protection from retaliation under Ohio Revised Code section 4112.53.
Many of the Ohio and federal laws protecting whistleblowers can be complex, and failing to take the right steps in a timely manner can cause the employee to lose the right to pursue their claims entirely. Some of these laws require the employee to first file with an administrative agency before the employee can pursue a lawsuit in court. Others permit the employee to pursue the claim only through an administrative agency. Moreover, the time limits to bring these anti-retaliation claims vary depending on the particular law at issue, with some as short as just thirty days. Because of these complexities, it is important for employees to seek the advice of an experienced Cleveland employment retaliation lawyer in order to protect their rights.
If you work in Cleveland, Lorain County, or anywhere in Northeast Ohio and believe that you have been the victim of retaliation in the workplace, contact us today. We have more than 40 years of experience in employment law, and have successfully helped many victims of retaliation who had the courage to stand up to their employer for breaking the law.