Connecticut businesses and employers can face serious legal issues when a current or former employee files a retaliation claim against them. Legally defined, workplace retaliation is the act of taking adverse action against an employee because she complained about harassment or discrimination or reported alleged company wrongdoing to the proper authorities (an act known as whistleblowing). Examples of retaliation include:
- Firing the employee
- Demotion or denial of a promotion
- Reduction in pay and/or loss of benefits
- Hostile work environment
- Disciplinary action
Employees are increasingly aware of their rights and do not hesitate to act on them. In the past 20 years, the number of retaliation claims received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has nearly tripled.
While this is an important step forward for a workforce that previously had little recourse against discrimination and harassment, it can make things more complicated for a Connecticut employer to legally terminate someone. Although there is no guarantee that an employee won’t try to accuse you of retaliation, the steps below can help reduce the likelihood of a successful suit.
Implement a Strict Employment Anti-Discrimination Policy
A workplace culture that discourages harassment, discrimination, and retaliation can limit the chance of a complaint arising in the first place. Your anti-discrimination policy should:
- Outline the process for making a complaint
- Address situations where an employee’s supervisor is the alleged harasser
- Indicate the steps involved in investigating a complaint
- List the disciplinary action to be taken against offenders
- Contain an appeal process for those who are not satisfied with the outcome
Train Managers on Policy Implementation
Train your managers on the policy so that they are in a better position to foster a workplace culture and environment in which harassment, discrimination, and retaliation do not occur.
Indicate Termination Procedures in the Employee Handbook
Termination should never come as a surprise. Ensure that your employee handbook lists unacceptable behaviors and explains the company’s right to discipline and terminate employees. If you have to fire someone for reasons listed in the handbook, it is more difficult to claim that you retaliated against them. For added security, document all efforts to correct problem behaviors, such as records of formal disciplinary action.
Apply Policies Consistently
Retaliation claims often arise when employers respond to one employee’s behavior differently than the others. For example, if an employee has filed a sexual harassment complaint and you terminate them soon afterwards for repeated lateness, you could be setting the stage for a retaliation claim if other perpetually tardy employees were never fired for that reason.
A successful retaliation claim can damage your business’s reputation and even its operation. If you need to terminate an underperforming employee after he/she filed an internal complaint or a complaint with the EEOC or similar entity, contact Monarch Law to review your situation. We routinely advise Connecticut employers on the best way to navigate such a legally precarious situation and will recommend the best solution to your problem.