Cleveland Employment Whistleblower Lawyer

It takes courage to speak up when you see discrimination at work. And you have the right to be free from retaliation for having that courage. If your employer retaliated against you for reporting discrimination or other illegal conduct at work, call an employment retaliation lawyer at Bolek Besser Glesius and protect yourself.

The Cleveland whistleblower lawyers at Bolek Besser Glesius have more than 70 years of collective experience representing employees in retaliation and other employment claims. If you are facing retaliation at work, we might be able to help you too.

What is whistleblower retaliation?

Whistleblower attorney

The employment discrimination laws wouldn’t work if employees were unwilling to come forward and report discrimination. But if employers were free to punish employees for speaking out, many people would stay silent. That would make it virtually impossible to stomp out employment discrimination. For this reason, both Ohio and federal employment laws contain anti-retaliation provisions to protect whistleblowers.

These laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees because they engaged in what’s called “protected activity.” To put it more simply, employers can’t fire, harass, demote, or take other serious negative actions against employees for reporting workplace discrimination.

So what exactly is “protected activity?” It could mean different things. First and foremost is making a good-faith complaint of employment discrimination. Protected activity also includes opposing unlawful employment discrimination or being a witness in an investigation or lawsuit. Some of the most common examples of 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.
  • Telling your employer you plan to file a Charge of Discrimination or lawsuit.
  • Opposing unsafe working conditions or employer violations of federal safety law.
  • Refusing to obey an order you reasonably believe is discriminatory.
  • Testifying as a witness in a lawsuit or investigation into employment discrimination.
  • Requesting a reasonable accommodation based on a disability or a religious practice.
  • Requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

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 laws probably will not protect them. Whistleblower employees with questions about how to protect themselves should talk to a retaliation lawyer.

How do I know if I’m being retaliated against at work?

Once an employee engages in protected activity, the employer cannot take “adverse action” against the employee because of the protected activity. A retaliatory adverse action is something the employer does that would dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity in the future. Think of it as something the employer might do to “send a message” for others to stay quiet. Firing an employee for complaining is an obvious example. But there are many other things that could be retaliation:

  • Layoff, non-renewal of an employment contract, or refusal to hire.
  • Harassment.
  • 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 or nitpicking.

Although ordinary workplace annoyances and slights don’t necessarily constitute retaliation, sudden changes in the way an employer treats you shortly after you 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’s important to note that the federal employment laws prohibit retaliation against others besides just the employee who engages in protected activity. They also protect people who are so close to the employee engaging in protected activity that retaliation against them would dissuade others from coming forward in the future. For example, it would be illegal to fire an employee because his brother complained about a safety violation in the same workplace. In that scenario, both employees would have a claim for illegal retaliation. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what happened in a case we brought under the Mine Safety & Health Act on behalf of a family of miners working for (and fired by) the same employer.

Do I need a retaliation lawyer to protect my rights at work?

As that last example shows, it isn’t just the employment discrimination laws that protect whistleblowers. There are many others as well. For instance, the First Amendment might protect public employees who are retaliated against for reporting misuse of public funds or public corruption. Employees who report corporate fraud may be entitled to protection under Section 806 of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act or the Dodd-Frank Act. And section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act protects employees from retaliation for complaining about a wide range of workplace safety issues. These are just a few examples. There are dozens of other similar laws.

Ohio law has several retaliation protections for employees as well. Ohio Revised Code section 4123.90 makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for seeking workers’ compensation. Employees who report a workplace felony or other criminal offense that risks imminent physical harm or a danger to public health or safety have retaliation protection under Ohio Revised Code section 4113.53.

Even though many retaliation laws protect whistleblowers, these laws are complex, and failing to take the right steps quickly enough can cause employees to lose the right to pursue their claims entirely. Some of these laws require employees to first file with an administrative agency before going to court. Others permit employees to pursue the claim only through an administrative agency. What’s more, the time limits to bring retaliation claims vary depending on the law at issue, with some as short as just 30 days. Because of these complexities, employees need advice from an experienced whistleblower lawyer to protect their rights.

Cleveland employment retaliation lawyer

Don’t leave your rights and livelihood to chance. If your boss is mistreating you for having the courage to do the right thing, take action. Call an employment whistleblower lawyer at Bolek Besser Glesius for a free consultation.