Everyone hopes for a good employment relationship, but the reality is that disputes in the workplace do sometimes occur and sometimes lead to an employee’s termination. Generally, employment in Minnesota is considered at-will employment, which means that an employer has the right to terminate an employee’s employment for any reason, or for no reason at all.
Even in an at-will employment relationship, employers may not terminate an employee as retaliation for the employee taking a certain action. Workplace retaliation commonly occurs after an employee reports harassment or discrimination in the workplace, and subsequently lose their job or suffer other adverse employment consequences.
The Equal Employment Opportunity laws provide legal protections to employees who report workplace violations. Reporting is considered a protected action. These laws provide protection to all current, future or former employees. This means that an employer cannot provide a negative reference to a former employee or refuse to hire an otherwise qualified new employee solely because they made a complaint in the past.
Proving workplace retaliation can be challenging. Even if an employee is terminated or demoted after validly asserting their legal rights, an employer may claim there was a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.
To prove retaliation, it must be shown that:
- An employee engaged in protected activity
- The employer engaged in a materially adverse action
- Retaliation was the cause of the employer’s action
Retaliation can occur in many situations. An employer can be found to have retaliated against an employee after the employee provides information for an investigation, requests a reasonable accommodation for religion or a disability, participates in another employee’s EEO claim or even simply tells an employer about the EEO laws they must follow.
If an employee complains about certain employer conduct, it is important to note that the conduct does not need to be an actual EEO violation, if the employee has a reasonable, good faith belief that it is.
It can be difficult to tell if an employer’s action is prohibited under EEO laws, or if you’ve experienced an adverse employment action because of retaliation. A qualified legal professional can provide guidance.