Protection against retaliation

You have the right to be protected from retaliation for exercising your rights and the rights of others.

You generally have the right to file a complaint in court or with a federal agency, file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, participate in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit, engage in any protected equal employment opportunity (EEO) activity, or oppose harassment or discrimination without being retaliated against by your employer. Punishing applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from discrimination or harassment can violate the law.

This doesn’t entirely protect you from discipline or discharge from your job. Your employer may discipline or fire you if there is a non-retaliatory and non-discriminatory reason that would otherwise result in such consequences. However, an employer is not allowed to do anything in response to an equal employment opportunity activity that would discourage someone else from resisting or complaining about discrimination.

Distressed woman at desk

What this means for you

Some examples of activities for which employers are not allowed to retaliate against you are:

  • filing a discrimination complaint or being a witness in a discrimination investigation, or lawsuit,
  • communicating with a supervisor about employment discrimination or harassment,
  • answering questions during a discrimination or harassment investigation,
  • refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination,
  • resisting sexual advances or intervening to protect others,
  • requesting accommodations for a disability or religious practice, or
  • asking about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages.

Examples of retaliation

In general, this means that you cannot be:

  • fired,
  • rejected for a job or promotion,
  • given lesser assignments,
  • forced to take leave, or
  • otherwise disciplined

for reporting discrimination. It also is illegal for an employer to take other actions that reasonably might deter a worker from filing a charge, participating in a complaint or lawsuit, or otherwise opposing discrimination.

You also generally have a right to be protected from retaliation regardless of your immigration status. This includes retaliation based on your immigration status, such as threats to call immigration authorities. In some cases, immigration status may limit the remedies that you’ll be able to obtain if your employer unlawfully retaliated against you.

Need more information?
The elaws (Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses) Advisors are a set of online tools developed by the U.S. Department of Labor to help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities under Federal employment laws.