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Worried about employer retaliation if you report discrimination?

People face discrimination at work every day in New Jersey. Despite state and federal laws intended to protect workers, they still get harassed and mistreated by managers and co-workers for their gender, age, race and other factors they have no control over. This can quickly lead to a hostile work environment. In some cases, discrimination can become an abuse of power, such as in cases of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Many workers facing harassment and discrimination at work hesitate to report the issue. They rightfully worry about the potential for retaliation, as well as the potential impact for their future career. While it can be terrifying to stand up for yourself against harassment and abuse, doing so protects your rights and prevents your employer from doing the same thing to someone else in the future.

Federal law prohibits retaliation for those who report mistreatment

Federal employment laws are very clear about how employers can treat workers who file valid complaints about discrimination and harassment at work. Asserting your right to a discrimination-free workplace is a protected activity. Your employer cannot consider that action when making decisions about compensation, hiring, firing or promotions.

Some forms of protected activity include filing a complaint or charge, testifying as a witness for someone else facing discrimination, reporting discrimination or harassment via internal channels, refusing to comply with discriminatory practices, refusing sexual advances, speaking up for someone else dealing with harassment or asking for salary information when you suspect discrimination in wages. Your employer cannot punish you for standing up for your rights.

What does retaliation look like?

Workplaces have different cultures and practices. Retaliation can be completely different from one business to another. Some employers may reprimand, write up or otherwise penalize an employee for reporting discrimination or harassment. That could include a poor performance review that doesn't reflect someone's work. Other times, workers who stand up against discrimination could find themselves demoted or transferred to less lucrative or desirable positions in the company.

Sometimes, management or human resources inform other staff members about the report. These co-workers can then attack, belittle and mistreat the individual who reported the issue. Any effort to demote or fire a person for filing a complaint is retaliation. So is increasing scrutiny of one's work or employment.

Standing up against discrimination is the right thing to do

When your employer refuses to address discrimination and harassment, and penalizes you for reporting it instead of the offender(s), you need to seek external justice. You have the legal right to a harassment-free workplace. You also have the right to push back against illegal actions by your employer.

Standing up against your employer is complicated and difficult, but you should still do it. Not only will you protect your own rights, you may stop someone else from getting abused and harassed at your company in the future.

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