Can I Be Fired For Harassment Complaint at Work?

Can I Be Fired For Complaining About Harassment at Work?

Complaining about harassment at work can be tricky. Many employees are reluctant to bring up issues of workplace abuse and harassment for fear of losing their jobs, damaging their careers or letting go of chances of promotion. However, important laws are in place to safeguard an employee’s right to complain about harassment at work. These laws can have significant impact on the outcome of workplace harassment situations.

Specifically, laws on retaliation in the workplace prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees who make complaints about harassment. Both federal and state employment discrimination laws contain provisions preventing employees from retaliating against an employer experiencing harassment in a number of ways. It is important that employees stay aware of their rights in such instances and become capable of asserting those rights if necessary.

Harassment, Retaliation and Wrongful Termination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it clear that job discrimination is prohibited based on a number of protected categories: race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability. When a worker experiences harassment based on membership in any of these categories, such harassment is a violation of federal law.

The harassment must be severe and pervasive and the employer must be made aware of the offending behavior before a court can rule in an employee’s favor on a harassment claim.

Title VII also makes it clear that federal law does not tolerate retaliation when an employee is experiencing workplace harassment. The law states that an employee who files a charge or lawsuit about discriminatory harassment or participates in discrimination court proceedings is legally protected from retaliation from an employer.

When an employee is fired in retaliation for complaining about harassment, it could be a wrongful termination. Wrongful termination can happen when an employee is terminated as a result of discrimination or other forms of workplace unfairness such as fraud or violations of public policy. Wrongful termination cases are not at all uncommon in American courts.

What Should I Do If Am Wrongfully Terminated for Complaining About Harassment?

When an employee experiences wrongful termination, he or she has 180 days to file a charge against an employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will approach the employer notifying the company of the charge and begin an investigation into all allegations. The agency may attempt conciliation – settling the case by asking the employer to stop the harassment and remedy the situation on its own, or it may decide to represent the offended party in a court case. If the EEOC decides not to pursue the case, it issues a notice to the charging party that it is acceptable to proceed with litigation with the assistance of an attorney in a private cause of action.

Locating an attorney to represent your wrongful termination case is critical to the success of your case. A competent and skilled wrongful termination lawyer should be familiar with the Title VII provisions which apply to your particular situation and should also be familiar with the major court cases which influence instances of harassment and retaliation in the workplace. It is important to locate an experienced attorney as early on in the process as possible.

Reinstatement and Other Remedies for Wrongful Termination

One of the most important remedies for wrongful termination is reinstatement. This means that someone fired for job discrimination and/or harassment at work could get their job back as a result of an EEOC charge or as a result of a court order. In most cases, this is the ideal situation for employees who wish to keep their jobs and maintain their career with a particular company.

Another remedy is back pay. Back pay is a form of damages which an employee could be entitled to after experiencing wrongful termination. The purposes of damages is to put an employee in the position he or she would have been in had the wrongful termination not occurred. This sometimes means that an employee is awarded the money he would have earned if he had not been fired for complaining about harassment.

Being fired for complaining about harassment often causes damages that cannot be remedied by reinstatement of by monetary rewards, such as damage to reputation or emotional harm. Employees could also be compensated for these types of damages through a wrongful termination suit. Again, it is important to consult with a qualified attorney who can assess the value of your case based on prior experience and the guidelines and rules of the law.

What’s the safest way to complain about harassment at work?

While there may be no tried and true method for filing complaints about harassment at work, one of the best ways to address the issue is to first let the harasser know that his or her actions are not welcome.   At the same time, you should also go to your human resources department to let them know about the harassment.  Also ensure that human resources documents the complaints in the event any future action needs to be taken.

Next, it is essential that a supervisor or manager becomes aware of the problem and is given the opportunity to address it. In some cases, an employer will ignore an employee’s attempts to notify the company of harassment at work. However, employees should be persistent in maintaining good written records of each attempt at notification as it could prove helpful later in a wrongful termination case.

If the complaining about harassment leads to an actual termination, and the employee can prove that the termination was based on an employee’s attempts to complain about harassment, courts could rule in an employee’s favor using provisions regarding illegal retaliation.

An employee should also be aware of the necessary grievance or complaint policy and procedures for the company in which they work. Following these procedures is also critical to a successful wrongful termination cases as employers may attempt to thwart litigation by proving that proper complaint procedure was not followed.

Fired For Complaining About Harassment at Work? Know Your Rights

According to the law, it is illegal to be fired for complaining about harassment at work. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers from this type of retaliation and provides a number of remedies for such situations in the form of both monetary and non-monetary awards. It is important to consult a competent attorney to analyze the facts of your wrongful termination case in light of the law and to represent you in court when litigation is necessary.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.