A quick online dictionary search of the definition of "retaliate" reflects that it means "to take retributory action, especially by returning some injury or wrong in kind." We frequently receive calls from potential clients where they tell us that they were "retaliated" against at work. In many cases, they probably were considering the general use of the word "retaliate." For example, one lady reported that her boss had retaliated against her by not quickly processing her mileage expense checks following an argument between the two women over how an aspect of their job should be performed. The woman believed her boss "retaliated" against her because she was mad at her over the argument. Another man reported that he was "retaliated" against at work by being given an unfavorable schedule because he had told the owner of the company something unfavorable about his boss and the boss wanted to "get back" at him. These actions may have been unfair or even wrong, and in the commonly understood sense of the word they were forms of retaliation. But were these forms of illegal workplace retaliation? Probably not.
In employment law, "retaliation" means something a little different. For a workplace claim for retaliation, an employee must show that he or she engaged in a "protected activity" (such as complaining of or opposing an employer's action that is against the law (e.g., discrimination or harassment); that he or she was then subjected to an adverse employment action by the employer (e.g., demotion or termination); and, that there is a "causal link" between the protected activity and the employer's action. In other words, the employee has to be able to show that she was treated badly because of her protected activity. So, if a co-worker glues your keyboard because you reported him sleeping on the job, while it is "retaliation," it is not necessarily illegal.
Now that we have shed some light on this subject, do you think you have ever experienced workplace retaliation?