Many federal and state employment laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for reporting violations or potential violations of the laws’ substantive provisions. These laws are important because they protect employees who come forward to stop unlawful employment practices.
For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about overtime or minimum wage violations. Similarly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Virginia Human Rights Act, and other statutes prohibit retaliation against employees for reporting potential violations of these employment laws.
An employee is generally protected from retaliation if she makes a good faith internal complaint about a potential violation of a law regarding unpaid overtime or minimum wages, or protected class discrimination or harassment. These same laws generally also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for participating, as a party or a witness, in legal proceedings regarding unpaid wages or discrimination. These complaints or participation in legal proceedings are “protected conduct.”
These laws make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee in any aspect of employment because the employee engaged in protected conduct. Retaliation can occur in hiring, firing, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments, transfers, promotions, training, or other conditions of employment.
These laws also prohibit harassing an employee because of her or his protected conduct. Harassment can include demeaning treatment towards or comments about a person, if the treatment and comments are so frequent or severe that they create an abusive work environment.