Some employees are under the mistaken impression that if they complain about anything bad that happens at work, their employer can’t do anything to them, no matter what the circumstances. They think that anything negative the employer does after they complain must be retaliation.
Fortunately, that’s not true. Retaliation has to be serious enough to dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining in the first place. What’s “reasonable” depends on the specific circumstances. A minor change that doesn’t really affect the employee much isn’t enough.
Recent case: After postal worker Sandra Fanning was attacked by a co-worker, she sued the U.S. Postal Service for failing to protect her.
The parties eventually reached a settlement in which the Postal Service agreed she could collect workers’ compensation for the attack’s traumatic aftereffects. Plus, she was allowed to retire under the Postal Service’s disability retirement plan. The settlement agreement also called for Fanning to receive quarterly reimbursements of about $300 for health insurance.
When some of the quarterly reimbursements arrived late, Fanning sued, alleging that the late payments were retaliation for the original suit.
The court disagreed. It pointed out that, between workers’ comp and disability plan payments, Fanning’s annual income amounted to more than $63,000. The court said receiving the $300 payment a bit late wouldn’t be enough to dissuade a reasonable individual with such an income from complaining. (Fanning v. Potter, No. 09-1687, 8th Cir., 2010)