What is an adverse employment action?

On Behalf of | Mar 31, 2020 | employee rights |

If you discover that your employer is engaging in illegal acts, you can and probably should report this to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This makes you a whistleblower, and the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects you against any retaliatory action your employer may attempt to take against you. 

The EEOC advises that the term “adverse employment action” covers all of the retaliatory actions that federal law prohibits your employer from taking against you. However, there is no precise definition for what constitutes an adverse employment action. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court must go on a case-by-case basis and carefully study each alleged violation to determine whether or not a particular employer’s action rises to the level of an adverse employment action. 

Common adverse employment actions 

Over the years, SCOTUS has designated the following as prohibited adverse employment actions: 

  • Firing you 
  • Demoting you 
  • Reducing your wage or salary 
  • Relocating you to a less desirable company location 
  • Assigning you more work than it assigns to other employees who hold the same job description or classification as you do 

Less obvious adverse employment actions 

Only your employer’s imagination limits the types of adverse employment actions it may attempt to take against you after you become a whistleblower. SCOTUS has deemed the following to also constitute prohibited actions: 

  • Excessively monitoring or surveilling you and your work 
  • Stripping away your supervisory duties 
  • Threatening you or a family member with immigration scrutiny 
  • Criticizing you in the media or other public venues 
  • Failing to include you in lunches open to other members of your work team 

Bottom line, adverse employment actions can and do take many forms. Only your particular workplace circumstances will determine whether your employer took a prohibited retaliatory action against you.